How excited you were when summer approached and you were going to be out of school? Summer vacation meant for most of us not having to go to bed as early and sleeping in a little later in the morning. You may have memories of summer camps, of cousins coming to visit or you visiting them; you may remember Vacation Bible School or family reunions; there were for many fun trips to the beach or lake; it was a time for homemade ice cream or watermelon. For some it meant going barefooted a whole lot more than during the school year.
But for many children in our community this summer there is an experience that is not near as pleasant as our good memories. That experience is the hunger that comes from being out of school. One out of five residents of our county is living in poverty. The percentage even grows when you look under the age of twelve and realize that one fourth of those in this age group are living in poverty. Sixty-six percent of school age children qualify for free and reduced cost lunches at their schools. Summer of course means that those months those meals are not available.
A new community agency dealing with the impact of poverty in Newton County/Covington was launched on May 19. Action Ministry has come to our community. The office is located in the Wesley Chapel building of the Covington First United Methodist Church. This is the first office opened in the last two decades by Action Ministry. They are also located in several locations in Atlanta and Decatur, Athens, Augusta, Gainesville, and Rome.
John Moeller, Executive Director of Action Ministries, commented at the opening, “For 52 years, Action Ministries has been leading people out of poverty all across North Georgia by mobilizing communities to address the challenges of poverty. Action Ministries is focusing on hunger relief, housing and education.”
One example of these efforts is during 2014, Action Ministry served over two million meals. The estimated worth of these were over eleven million dollars. “The Smart Lunch, Smart Kid” program served 219,515 lunches last year.
Tamara Richardson has been named the area director for Action Ministry. She will lead in an effort to identify what is needed in our area to deal with the impact of poverty. This means looking for both issues to be addressed and resources in the community that can be brought together to address the issues. She said that Action Ministry in Covington will eventually deal with hunger relief, transitional housing, and education. “Hunger relief is the first of the three pronged outreach.”
The possibility of this new local effort came out of a shared vision of the Alcovy and Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church. These two churches received a very generous gift from the late Jean Davenport. They decided to use the gift to help bring Action Ministry to our area. Covington First United Methodist Church is hosting the office for this new ministry.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston represented the city as he welcomed Action Ministry to our area at the ribbon cutting on May 19th. He spoke of how this start reflects the generous heart of our community. Leaders of the city, churches and chamber were present for this launch.
Have you ever thought how you might get involved helping with children that are living in poverty? What can I do to help the children of our community who are hungry this summer? A new way you can be involved in the “Smart Lunch, Smart Kid: program being offered in Newton County this summer. Volunteers are the heart of the Action Ministries Covington. Action Ministry says, “Our volunteers are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” I would say they are far from ordinary, they are truly “life changers.”
Volunteers are needed to make lunches, deliver lunches, and provide enrichment opportunities for children in need. You can volunteer by contacting Elizabeth Holcombe, Newton County’s Coordinator for “Smart Lunch, Smart Kid”. Contact her at EHolcombe.firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month, in partnership with the New County School System, lunches have been delivered each summer school day to eleven different schools and the Washington Street Community Center. The students receiving lunches range from pre-k to rising twelfth graders. Their need was identified by NCSS.
For July the focus will shift. Lunches will be prepared by volunteers and delivered to distribution centers as the school program will be over. School starts back on July 31, and up to that time lunches will be distributed. Volunteers are needed not only to make lunches, but to deliver them and have lunch with the children. With lunch will come opportunities for enrichment and mentoring. The area around the Covington Mills United Methodist Church and Porterdale has been named for the first two distribution points. At least one other will identified before July 1.
Two thirds of Newton Counties school age children qualify for free and reduced-cost lunches. The issue of hunger is not one that any one of us can solve alone. But by joining our efforts together we can make a difference. I challenge you to get involved with “Smart Lunch, Smart Kid” and together we can make progress.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.