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SJMS Honors Minnie’s Food Pantry Founder Dr. Cheryl Jackson with Sonja Harrison Through the Front Door Award

Press Release|
Shane Mauldin|
Friday, February 28, 2020
Dr. Cheryl Jackson (left) with Sonja Harrison (right)—One battled segregation and one battles hunger—both have opened the door for others to follow.

Dr. Cheryl Jackson (left) with Sonja Harrison (right)—One battled segregation and one battles hunger—both have opened the door for others to follow.

McKinney, Texas – Dr. Cheryl Jackson thought she was at Scott Johnson Middle School last Friday simply to deliver a message to students encouraging them to become catalysts for positive change.

And, technically, that was the primary reason she was there—and she certainly delivered. Jackson knows what she’s talking about when it comes to making an impact; she has lived it.

In 2008, she started Minnie’s Food Pantry in Plano, Texas with little more than two cans of corn and a heart to help others. Since then, Minnie’s has provided more than 9 million meals to children and families.

Dr. Cheryl “Action” Jackson, founder of Minnie’s Food Pantry in Plano, Texas. (Courtesy of Minnie’s Food Pantry)

According to the Minnie’s website, Jackson has been the keynote speaker for fortune 500 companies like AT&T, Capital One Bank, Experian, JC Penney, McDonald’s, Mercedes Benz, Macy’s and hundreds of conferences, schools and organizations. Her work has been singled out by Oprah, Ellen, Good Morning America and a host of other media outlets as a model of how to get good things done.

That’s why SJMS pulled a bit of a bait and switch with Jackson after her talk. Dr. Mitch Curry and his SJMS staff hadn’t invited Jackson only so their students could benefit from her wisdom—but to thank her and celebrate her as well.

Minnie’s Food Pantry Founder Dr. Cheryl Jackson speaks to students at Scott Johnson Middle School on Feb. 19, 2020. Her topic: Be a Catalyst of Change—Be the One Who Builds a Bridge for Yourself and Others!

Because, beyond the widespread impact of Minnie’s Food Pantry, Jackson has also taken SJMS under her wing and forged a relationship that began when Trina Moody’s SJMS ELAR class visited Minnie’s for a service project last year.

Today, Minnie’s provides SJMS with more than 600 pounds of snacks every month so that students whose families struggle to provide enough food have a snack available during the school day from the SJMS “Tiger Snack Cart.”

Jackson’s spring break care package program will provide 150 SJMS families with a week’s worth of healthy snacks and meals during spring break. And, Jackson chose four SJMS applicants who will serve as interns at Minnie’s, working alongside and learning from Jackson and her team.

All of the above inspired SJMS to name Jackson the recipient of the highest honor that they bestow on an individual—the Sonja Harrison Through the Front Door Award.

Scott Johnson Middle School surprised Dr. Cheryl Jackson (left), founder of Minnie’s Food Pantry, by presenting her with the Sonja Harrison Through the Front Door Award named in honor of Harrison (right) and given in recognition of someone who has made a positive impact on the community.

Named for retired McKinney ISD educator Sonja Harrison, the award was created to recognize an individual each February who has made a significant, positive impact on his or her community.

Harrison has certainly walked that road. As a middle school student in the 1960’s in Brunswick, Georgia, Harrison was among the first small group of black students to integrate the previously whites-only middle school in her town. She and her companions endured a daily barrage of rocks and verbal abuse as they waited under the flag in front of the school.

When white business owners told black customers in Brunswick that they had to come to the back door for service, Harrison’s mother reminded her, “We are not back door people,” and they took their business elsewhere.

Harrison endured and overcame segregation and racism and opened the door for others to follow. And the heart that compelled her to do so inspired SJMS to create the award in her honor.

Dr. Cheryl Jackson visits with SJMS students after receiving the Sonja Harrison Through the Front Door Award.

Jackson’s formative years were marked by modest means, but they were rich with love. She learned the art of giving from her grandmother Helen and her mother Minnie—in whose honor Minnie’s Food Pantry was named— and after personally experiencing the sting of shame that so often accompanies an application for food stamps, Jackson made it her mission to impart not only meals, but dignity as well to those in need.

“Every day that I wake up,” she said in a 2018 WFAA feature, “I feel so blessed because I am not on the other side anymore. But, I can impact the other side, and I can impact the side of the people who can help other people. I see myself shaping North Texas by teaching people how to treat people that need something as simple as a meal.”

On the stage at SJMS, Harrison shared part of her own story and then announced Jackson as the 2020 Through the Front Door Award recipient. As she crossed the stage toward Jackson, Harrison wore a proud smile, and there were tears on Jackson’s cheeks.

Dr. Cheryl Jackson (left), founder of Minnie’s Food Pantry, and Dr. Mitch Curry (right), principal of Scott Johnson Middle School, cut the ribbon on the Tiger Snack Cart which Minnie’s supplies with 600 lbs. of snacks each month.

“I just want to say that being around you, Scott Johnson Middle School…you have given life to myself, to my staff,” Jackson said, holding the plaque and trying to compose herself. “When you came through Minnie’s Food Pantry’s doors, we laughed, we danced, we made a difference. And, I just want you to know that the spirit that you used and what you had every time you got off a bus to come and see us, I pray that you keep that through the rest of your life because it is in that spirit that you will change lives.”

After a pause, Jackson, still emotional, continued, “I’m surprised by this [award]; I didn’t know this was happening … I can’t wait to see what happens when you graduate. I can’t wait to hear your names because I hear the future, and I hear your names in the future—and your names will be great. And, as Mrs. Harrison said, ‘What will you do with your minute?’ That’s all we have. Let’s make it a great minute every single day of our lives and love, love, love like I love you. Thank you.”

And, the students, who have grown to love Jackson, roared with approval for this remarkable woman who experienced the gnawing humiliation of hunger, and decided to act—to do whatever was in her power—so that others don’t have to.

It started with two cans of corn that have multiplied into millions of meals.

And, Dr. Cheryl “Action” Jackson is far from finished.

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