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Posted: July 28, 2012 5:05 p.m.

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Burgess: Volunteerism knows no limits in Social Circle

There as so many great things going on in Social Circle fueled by volunteers. The other day, my husband ran into Social Circle resident Larry Knox who had just returned from delivering lunches to children under the FISH 4 Kids summer lunch program. I actually knew a little about this program, but not much about the strength of commitment by many citizens to help feed hungry kids. Four Social Circle churches, First Baptist Church of Social Circle, Corinth Missionary Baptist Church, Social Circle United Methodist Church and Mars Hill Baptist Church, serve as key organizers of volunteers who deliver the lunches.

FISH 4 Kids provides lunches to children in Walton County who might otherwise go hungry during summer months. The program serves the Loganville, Walnut Grove and Monroe areas as well as Social Circle. Volunteers prepare approximately 2,200 lunches every week day for distribution in each of the participating cities. The food is purchased through donations to Faith in Saving Humanity, a Christian outreach ministry sponsored by a number of churches in Walton County. Some of the food also has been made available through the Atlanta Food Bank.

The FISH 4 Kids program originated about seven years ago after FISH director Cindy Little expressed the concern that many kids who receive free or price reduced meals at school go hungry when school ends in the summer. School lunches are the only regular meal of the day for many children whose parents (or custodial grandparents) lack sufficient resources or are confronting problems (drug/alcohol abuse, unemployment, lack of parental involvement, etc.) that prevent them from providing adequate nutrition for their children or grandchildren. With the support of her board of directors, a pilot summer lunch program was initiated at the Monroe Housing Authority which was later expanded to include much of the county.

To learn more about the program, I spent one morning making sandwiches and helping to fill lunch sacks. That was quite an experience. Preparing lunches is done at the FISH 4 Kids building behind the main FISH Monroe thrift store. Four assembly tables have been set up headed by sandwich preparation stations. Volunteers prepare approximately 2,200 sandwiches every day (except weekends). The sandwiches are individually bagged, inserted in larger bags and handed down the line where the other food items are added. I was amazed at how many children and youth were involved in preparing the lunches. Church youth group members are recruited and parents bring their children and/or grandchildren not only to engage them in a constructive activity but more importantly to cultivate a virtue of giving.

In talking with Social Circle resident Ed Reinagel, who coordinates our lunch delivery program, he said that its major objectives are to make sure no child goes hungry and also to let the kids know that "Jesus Christ is involved (in this program) and that someone loves and cares about them." Mr. Reinagel, who serves as chairman of the FISH Executive Committee, made reference to a biblical statement, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me," (Matthew 25:40 - English Standard Version) which is the guiding principle for the churches and residents in our county who participate in the Fish 4 KIDS summer lunch program. He hopes and prays that when the children get older, they'll think back on the love shown to them by helping to fulfill their basic needs.

The four delivery routes established in Social Circle are manned by volunteers from the sponsoring churches and others in the community. Each lunch consists of a sandwich, a drink, chips, crackers, a fruit item and a desert item. For inspiration, prayer cards or prayer requests cards are often included. Once each week, Mr. Reinagel and fellow coordinator Bob Hay grill 2,200 hot dogs for distribution on Thursday, which is Hot Dog Day.

First Baptist Church of Social Circle members Charlene and Bill Clegg handled one route on the day I spent learning about the program. Charlene indicated that they bring their grandchildren, on an alternating basis, to share in this activity. The children take pleasure in participating and learn that there is joy in giving as well as receiving.
I accompanied Social Circle United Methodist Church members Caroline Taylor, Crenin Mills and 4-year-old Grace Mills on their route which included the Mill Village, Dove Landing subdivision, and the Social Circle Housing project. The procedure followed by all the drivers is to move slowly along the route while beeping their horns and stopping at specified addresses (provided to FISH 4 Kids by schools, churches and concerned individuals) or general locations where kids emerge like little butterflies out of their cocoons. (This reminded me of the Good Humor trucks which traveled our neighborhoods in my youth. When we heard the bells, we ran to the street to buy a frozen treat - if and when we had the money.)

Lunch bags are handed out of the windows to eager waiting hands. Recipients must pick up their lunches from the vehicles at the street since volunteers are prohibited from entering homes. There is no sign up required for this service. Any school-age child along the route is eligible to receive a lunch. Approximately 375-400 lunches are delivered each weekday in Social Circle.

A Back Pack Buddy's program has also been initiated by FISH 4 Kids in order to meet the needs of children on weekends.
Through this program, non-perishable food items and snacks are delivered to participating schools for distribution on Friday afternoons throughout the school year. The program is administered by teachers and counselors at each school; they identify the "at risk" students and make sure that those students are given a sack of food to put into their backpacks to have something to eat during the weekend. This is usually done with some confidentiality to avoid embarrassing the student. The Back Pack sacks are packaged on Tuesdays by local volunteers for distribution on Thursdays for the Friday hand out. Last school year, about 1,000 each week were distributed to many of the county and city schools.

I truly believe in the goodness of people everywhere. And despite all of the negative stories we hear and read about, I am happy to write about the many things people do that may be unrecognized, but contribute so much that's good to the life of our community in Social Circle.

Madeline Burgess is an active volunteer in Social Circle and the wife of former Mayor Jim Burgess.

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