By Brittany Anderson
KYLE — Like the meaning of her name, “hope,” Esperanza Orosco is instrumental in providing that to Hays CISD families and the community as a whole.
Orosco wears many hats. She has served on the Hays CISD Board of Trustees since 2016 and has been the director of the Hays CISD Clothes Closet since 2018 and HaysHope2Go since 2019.
As a former bilingual elementary school teacher for 11 years, Orosco became aware of some of the socioeconomic needs families faced in the district, starting with her own students.
“I noticed they didn’t have clothes that fit, or were torn,” Orosco said, an observation which snowballed into running a weekly clothes closet that families from other campuses even began to utilize.
Although the clothes closet on her campus eventually had to be shut down due to lack of space, she brought the idea up again once elected to the school board, offering to run the program for free. It wasn’t until current Superintendent Dr. Eric Wright was hired that the closet was able to make a comeback.
The Hays CISD Clothes Closet provides families in the district facing economic challenges with everything from toddler clothes and adult coats to shoes and prom outfits. During the 2021-2022 school year, the Clothes Closet filled over 700 requests for clothing, and have filled over 270 requests so far this year. Currently, it is holding a “Socktober” drive to collect new socks and underwear.
Orosco said she always knew she wanted to add a food portion to her outreach and in 2019, HaysHope2Go was initiated.
According to No Kid Hungry Texas, a nonprofit that helps combat childhood hunger, 25 percent of children in Texas struggle with food insecurity and that continues to rise with inflation and the cancellation of food assistance programs.
Hope2Go’s numbers staggeringly reflect this need. It provided 103,000 meals last year, and 7,400 meals have already been provided since July 1.
The program started off with just two big food events around Thanksgiving and Christmas, which spearheaded into personally distributing weekend food bags at two of the district’s lowest socioeconomic schools: Uhland Elementary and Camino Real Elementary.
After COVID-19 hit, the program’s model needed to change, and Orosco’s team now distributes to all schools districtwide.
While Hope2Go is a costly program to run, there is no overhead, and the team’s been able to form other partnerships that help, like with local organic farmers who provide them with veggies, meat, and milk. During the pandemic, Ilario’s Italian Restaurant in Kyle started donating 20 pounds of spaghetti to the Hope2Go program, something it has continued doing to this day.
The program has also been able to receive two $15,000 grants from No Kid Hungry Texas, which went towards buying food and infrastructure such as refrigerators and crates.
While the pandemic caused some challenges for both the Clothes Closet and Hope2Go, the programs have come out stronger than ever thanks to the seemingly never-ending support from the community.
PTA’s and student councils often help organize drives, and Orosco said that the community is very responsive when callouts are made when certain items are needed. Students from every grade level, Girl and Boy Scouts, businesses and church groups also often volunteer their time.
Orosco has countless stories of being touched by the families who come in and express their gratitude for the services, having lost a job or are dealing with a mountain of bills. Seeing that they are not alone is a huge relief for them, knowing that these struggles could hit anyone and at any time.
“We had a little girl who was shopping [at the Clothes Closet]. She was in first grade, and she was so excited about the dress she picked out,” Orosco said. “To her, it was like, ‘This is a brand new outfit, and I’m going to look so good for school.’ It was just a gently used dress, but to her, it meant the world. You could see her confidence, and it was amazing to see.”
The only requirement to receive help from either program is that the family have a student in the district, although they occasionally get referrals from nonprofit organizations and first responders and will take care of their needs as well.
Before the pandemic, if families received assistance from either program on a regular basis, they had to volunteer their time — something that Orosco hopes to implement again this year.
“If you had five kids and you used [the program] more than once, you had to donate five hours a month. So, they were vested,” Orosco said. “We don’t want to do toxic giving. We want to empower families to break out of the cycle of poverty and take ownership. … We want to make sure that everybody leaves with a sense of dignity and keeps their integrity.”
Orosco continues to burst with ideas for the future of the programs, saying that they add something new every year. This year, they started collecting school supplies, and are looking for more building space to expand into within the next couple of years.
Orosco knows that the need for these programs is not going to slow down with the rate of the district and county’s growth — but the differences they have made are already palpable and truly leave a sense of hope.
Visit the following links to find more information on the Clothes Closet and HaysHope2Go:
Both are located at 3939B E FM 150 in between Simon Middle School and Hemphill Elementary School in Kyle.