At Linda Tutt High School the students operate a grocery store that only accepts the currency of kindness. Inside this grocery store are all the sorts of things you’d expect: mac ‘n cheese, fresh fruit, yogurt, and more. Students are encouraged to come in every week and shop to their heart’s content, with many of the students taking the food home to their families. The best part is when they head to the student cashier, student shoppers don’t use a credit card or cash, they pay with the good deeds they’ve done that week.
Originally planned as an option for students, the Linda Tutt High School Grocery Store recently opened up to its community in Sanger, Texas, and more people than ever are paying with kindness. Linda Tutt is also planning to expand its operation into a 14-acre organic farm with a greenhouse for hydroponics and aeroponics. To understand a little more about this incredible initiative, Garden & Health was called into the principal’s office to speak with Mr. Anthony Love, Linda Tutt High School Principal.
“It’s been a little while in the making, especially with our schools being shut down with COVID. We really built the grocery store from the ground up, starting this school year,” Love shared. “The students were involved with building the shelves, putting the store together, and with every grocery item that came through, the students were a part of it.” The high school had previously donated backpacks full of groceries to students experiencing food insecurity, but they found most students were reluctant to take the bags home.
Many students felt embarrassed to rely on these bags, so the folks at Linda Tutt came up with an innovative solution, to start a grocery store and make it run on kindness. “Our hope in these extra points was to try to remove the embarrassment. We wanted to build up the pride and dignity in our students so that they feel like they have done something to earn the groceries or the food and the supplies that they’re taking home.”
Every student receives a certain amount of points based on the size of their family and their need that they can use to purchase items in the grocery store. To increase the number of those points, students earn positive office referrals by doing charitable deeds around the school, acting kindly towards a peer, or just spreading goodness. “You know it can be very individualized to help the student,” Principal Love said. “As a school, we always look for ways to motivate students because that can be challenging sometimes.”
Principal Love shared a story of some of the kind deeds he’s seen since the program began. “Last week we had an issue with our lunches, and we were one lunch short. So there was a girl that gave up her lunch to somebody else so that they could have lunch.” He went on to explain the impact these actions have. “Acts of kindness like that, you’re going to get a positive office referral. We call home and we give them a reward. We call parents and let them know that their kid was doing something really awesome and you’d be surprised that a lot of parents don’t get positive phone calls home from school,” Principal Love noted.
The positivity that these phone calls home celebrate have real tangible rewards for the students in the form of groceries they can take home. At Linda Tutt, roughly 45 percent of the students and their families qualify for some form of assistance, so these groceries really do make a difference. “We’ve had parents crying on the phone because that’s the first positive phone call from a school that they’ve ever received,” Principal Love said. “That’s something that we celebrate, and we want to encourage our kids to continue to do those types of things.”
Beyond putting food on the table, this grocery store also provides students with the real experience of running an organization. “You can really see a student’s work ethic,” Principal Love shared. “Sometimes they need a little motivation and you help them finish whatever the task is that they were working on. Just giving them some job skills that they can carry with them after high school.”
Many Linda Tutt students are looking for ways to give back, and they feel a real sense of accomplishment from their work in the grocery store. “Some of our older students that work in the store, they see the value in that,” Love said. “Many of them have never had a job before and most students are looking for ways to get involved with the school. The students working in the store really take pride in it because it’s kind of their special job that they do and they like it.”
The grocery store is wholly run by the students, with some supervision, and it’s a part of a larger campaign to address food insecurity in the community of Sanger. According to Principal Love, “the THRIVE Program is a one-of-a-kind partnership comprising Texas Health Resources, Sanger Independent School District (SISD), First Refuge Ministries, First Baptist Church of Sanger, and the city of Sanger. Texas Health Resources awarded THRIVE a $300,000 Community Impact Grant to develop collaborative programs that address food insecurities and resilience in the Sanger community. Albertsons of Denton has also donated $10,000 specifically for the store.”
With most of the fruit in the store coming from the grant, local businesses have also organized canned food drives to keep the shelves stocked at Linda Tutt over the holiday season. They recently opened up their good deed grocery store to the people of Sanger. “This is our first time opening to the community. We intentionally opened in phases because we wanted to open to our students first, and get the basic groundwork done,” Principal Love said. “So we could make sure our processes and procedures and all that good stuff was in place, so that now we could get to the point of opening to the community.”
The Linda High School Grocery Store isn’t planning on stopping there. Love shared the news that they are looking to expand their operation into a large student-run farm to grow organic fruits and vegetables to sell in the store. “We’re pursuing a grant for a garden. So purchasing around 14 acres of land and planning on having about a two-acre greenhouse. Then trying to incorporate the aquaponics and hydroponics and try to get some of the local colleges involved,” Love shared. “Our goal is that this will be year-round and that it will continue to grow and to provide for local food pantries and also to add the educational piece. Not a lot of people know about hydroponics and aquaponics and the way that works.”
Principal Love believes that this program could be applied to communities across the United States. “I think there’s a lot of potential there, and that a program similar to ours can be replicated throughout the country and even farther. I’ve talked with people in schools from Florida, Louisiana, California, Oregon, and Canada,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people about the program, about how we got it started, and the kinds of obstacles that we’ve gone through getting everything up and running.”
With everything that is going on to expand the operation, it’s important to remember that the Linda Tutt High School Grocery Store is about the students. Principal Love shared a story about how the grocery store has helped students develop a sense of giving back to their community.
“One of our student’s houses burned down on Thanksgiving Day, and I reached out to the family to ask if there’s anything we can do,” Principal Love shared. “When we got back from Thanksgiving break, I sat down with some of the kids that work in the store and told them about what happened. Then they came up with the idea of providing groceries for that family, and that was really cool to see young teenagers wanting to do something for somebody else.”