Spirit group Texas Blazers to cultivate learning, diverse meals for Eastside

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Photo Credit: Lauren Ibanez | Daily Texan Staff

Since 1994, new inductees of Texas Blazers, a UT spirit group, have hosted service projects for the Austin community. This time, they aim to go green and expand student lunch options.

This semester, the new Blazers plan to build a garden at Eastside Memorial High School to teach students about healthy eating, climate change and sustainability. They also intend to create a fund for Eastside students on the free/reduced lunch program.

Billy Li, a new member and accounting and Plan II Honors junior, said the group brainstormed project ideas before landing on the garden and fund. Li said he proposed the fund because of his experience in elementary school eating free/reduced lunches and occasionally having to purchase unfulfilling meals, such as a cheese sandwich.

“It wasn’t too bad,” Li said. “Sometimes it was a little bit sad eating something like that when the rest of your friends are eating regular or home-brought meals. The fund will help alleviate some of those feelings.”

The members are currently planning fundraisers, which will also go toward purchasing gardening tools, Li said. Blazers plans to build the garden on Dec. 8 and partner with teachers and community members for future maintenance. Because of their long-standing relationship with the high school from past programs, the Blazers have no doubt they can easily sustain the garden.

This garden and fund will assist the high school in its existing efforts in environmental sustainability. Rhonda Barton, a science teacher and Eastside science department chair, said the garden will encourage outdoor learning.

“Students realizing we’re all interconnected and our relationships with nature, whether that be plants or animals, is super important,” Barton said. “We can learn so much from nature.”

Barton also said the fund will aid the majority of students, since 91 percent of Eastside students qualify for free/reduced lunches.

“Most people know (the high school is) in a lower socioeconomic area,” Barton said. “We and our families don’t have excess money, so that gift to our school will be really appreciated.”

Food insecurity among students is also an issue on college campuses, including UT. Will Ross, a coordinator for UT Outpost, a food resource for UT, said a University of Health Services study reported one in four students on campus have dealt with food insecurity.

“In our American culture, there’s always a stigma attached to getting a handout,” Ross said. “We’re really trying to normalize this experience on campus.”

With UT Outpost, Ross said students are provided with resources to help them succeed both academically and professionally.

“Food insecurity makes it hard for students to stay in class and succeed,” Ross said. “Our goal is to help students understand what food insecurity is, what it looks like on campus and help them get access to nutritious foods, so they can be successful Longhorns.”

Along with the immediate impact of the garden and fund, Li said he hopes the Blazers’ efforts will ultimately serve to educate Eastside students on the importance of healthy eating and sustainability.

“There are a lot of studies that demonstrate how eating right is good for you,” Li said. “Sustainability is also important because climate change is real. We need to do a lot of different things for the future to reduce our impact.”