In February, Texas experienced a devastating winter storm that led to power, water and food shortages across the state. Fifth-grade math and science bilingual teacher Isela Hernandez and her family were blessed to not be seriously affected during the storm. Although they didn’t lose power and water, they did their part by conserving energy. 

During this time, Mrs. Hernandez couldn’t get her students at John Haley Elementary out of her mind, and she wanted to do something to help them but didn’t know how. She reached out to her principal, Lindsey Sanders, to brainstorm, and they decided to host a food drive. 

“Principal Sanders was supportive and instrumental from the start,” says Hernandez. “She did everything from creating the food drive flyer for social media to organizing things behind the scenes.” 

Donations in the John Haley gymnasium.

At first, the plan was to keep the food drive within the school and have teachers donate through Amazon. But after the word spread on social media and throughout the school, it grew larger than anyone expected. Faculty members started reaching out to community leaders for donations as well. Juanita Martinez, John Haley counselor, reached out to Gerson Hernandez from the Templo Cristiano Agape church, who donated three truckloads of water, toiletries and other supplies for students and their families. This prompted Mrs. Hernandez to reach out to her pastor and Irving ISD educator, Nathan Zuniga of Salvation Home, for resources. He immediately gathered the congregation to donate, package and deliver 511 bags of food. At the same time, Amazon donations were being delivered to campus each day.

“At first, we were able to keep donations in my classroom, but we outgrew that in no time,” says Hernandez. “We had to start housing donations in the school’s gym.”

Shortly, the gym was overflowing with donations for students and their families. Donations included everything from water and sanitizer to masks and tortillas from Rudy’s Tortilla Factory. 

Fifth-grade John Haley teachers and their students. Isela Hernandez’s class (top), Angie Cortez’s class (top left), Kelly Hancock’s class (top right), Lisa Porter’s class (bottom left) and Sarah Chong’s class (bottom right).

When it came time to sort the donations for the food drive, all of the fifth-grade teachers rallied their students to help with packing boxes for families. She was overwhelmed with gratitude. “The students stepped up and packed boxes as well as helped load vehicles with donations on the day of the food drive,” she says.

There were so many donations, families were able to come back for more food and supplies. Each John Haley cafeteria employee and maintenance worker also received a box of donations. 

Due to Mrs. Hernandez’s efforts, her colleagues nominated her for the Irving ISD Game Changer Award last month. Although she was overwhelmed with gratitude for this honor, she credits her entire John Haley family for bringing everything to fruition. 

“Everyone here is a game changer because they put a part of their heart in this mission,” says Hernandez.