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Filling the gap for hungry children
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Bad enough to be cooped up in the house during the summer because parents are at work and child care is cost prohibitive. But imagine being stuck inside and not having anything to eat.

During the school year, free or reduced lunch programs provide meals to children whose family is struggling, economically. Those breakfasts and lunches are available in June, after school lets out, at summer “camp” school programs.

But come July 1, school and camps served by the district are out, working to get ready for the next academic year.

Where do children get the meals families counted on between July 1 and July 31? Instead of being a carefree –and much anticipated—break from studies, summer threatens to be a hungry time for some kids.

That’s where nonprofit groups, some connected to governmental agencies and almost all connected to faith communities, come in. This summer, as they have in years past, they will provide free lunches to children at “feeding” sites, some outside at park pavilions, some inside in church fellowship halls.

Food program began as a personal commitment

Feeding children is personal for Cathryn Lafayette.

“When I was a child, my father was killed in a car accident and my mom was the only source of income. When she became very ill, she signed my sister and I up to get free meals at school, but on days when school was out, we didn’t have enough food.

“If it hadn’t been for the school programs [on the West side of Chicago], I wouldn’t have had enough to eat,” she said.
That experience made her sensitive to the needs of the children in her community, she said. Eight years ago, she began feeding about 20 children meals she paid for herself. Over the next five years, the number steadily increased as she found more and more hungry children living in the Enclave at Gross Lake subdivisions and Country Walk and Salem Glen mobile parks until, she said, she knew, “I just couldn’t feed them all, so I asked God to help me find a grant.”

She turned to the Bread of Lift Development (BOLD) Ministries, another Bright from the Start partner in Newton County.

“Now, we’re feeding up to 4,000 children. I don’t want children walking away hungry.”

“We have good children, we need to do something for them,” she said.

Currently, she is trying to get help clearing out underbrush on lots she’s been given permission to use, so children will have a place to play ball or run around. She is also hoping to get funding to start a mobile service, delivering meals to the neighborhoods where the hungry children live.

No child leaves unfed

While the children who qualify for the free or reduced lunch programs are school age, most of the sites will children ages 1 through 18, and sometimes older, if the child is disabled.

Like many of those who are committed to seeing that children are fed during the summer, Bea Jackson, who oversees the program at St. Paul’s AME Church on Brown Bridge, will not turn away a child who is hungry.

“If you’re hungry and you show up at a feeding site, you can eat,” she said. Though the program is gear towards children in kindergarten through 12th grade, “some of the kindergarteners have younger siblings and they are fed, too. We just can’t feed adults.”

Lunches will be served throughout July at the church, Monday through Thursday, at noon. The meals are provided by Rock of Salvation Ministries in Porterdale, which is the Newton County partner/administrator for Georgia’s Bright from the Start program [].

The church, its pastor, Robin Mays, said, fronts the money for the program costs and is reimbursed by the state. Mays estimates Bright from the Start lunches are feeding 1,200 children in Newton County his year.

To be able to receive meals through the Bright from the Start program, an organization must be a nonprofit. Mays and staff members have taken a required two-day training program, learning, in part, about food patterns and the USDA guidelines on what constitutes a nutritious meal. For example, all meals must be served with plain or chocolate fat-free milk. A lunch must contain meat, grains, a serving of fruit and one of vegetables. Similar guidelines are followed for breakfast, with Rock of Salvation also packs, and dinner.

Mays not only provides meals for children in Newton County. The ministry provides meals to nonprofits in Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnet, Rockdale, Franklin, Henry and Monroe counties, as well as Perry Holmes and other housing authority communities in metro Atlanta . In all, ROS will prepare meals for over 5,000 children and she estimates 1,200 will be served to children from Newton County. While the number of children needed lunches continues to rise, she said, the number of sites participating in the feeding programs have decreased from 34 to 24 this year.

That doesn’t mean the number of feeding sites have decreased, necessarily, just the number of sites requesting the USDA subsidized Bright from the Start services have dropped. That may be, Mays said, due to the amount of administrative paperwork required.

“That’s why a lot of people [who feed children] opt not to do it,” she said.

“Bright from the Start is a useful wonderful program and I hope it continues,” she said, “but for many, there are too many rules and regulations making it harder to feed children. A lot of faith communities are looking for ways to feed children without turning to the government. “

To be a feeding site, Jackson said, the application process begins in January. Since over 60 percent of students at Newton County schools are on the free or reduced school lunch program, food service programs like St. Paul’s are eligible to receive meals through Bright from the Start.

For the church, though, Jackson said, “It’s a community outreach and ministry to people who live in the nearby community who are need. It’s making sure people who wouldn’t have can have.

“We’re all connected,” she said.

Building networks, keeping in touch

Though it just opened doors in Newton County in May, Action Ministries has attracted support, primarily from faith communities, for its Smart Lunch, Smart Kids summer program.

It works like this: An organization agrees to sponsor a day’s lunch, providing the ingredients for a lunch and volunteers to pack the lunch. Most have volunteers who join Tamara Richardson, Executive Director, and Elizabeth Holcomb, County Coordinator for the Smart Lunch, Smart Kid program, in serving the meal.

So far, supporters have for the program have included Kelly Products in Covington, the Porterdale Citizen’s Police Academy Alumni of Georgia, and seven area churches.

Children and their families could learn about the program through flyers distributed in the Covington Mills area. There, meals are being served at the Covington Mills United Methodist Church, which is also providing the lunch, on Tuesdays from 3 to 5 p.m.

The meal program was also introduced to the community at a recent Porterdale City block part\sponsored by the city and the police department. At the gathering, Holcombe said, about 120 children were signed up for the program; so far, only 50 have attended. 

“ Once word of mouth gets out it’s truly a meal, not anything scary, I think kids will start coming,” Holcombe said. “Some of the children are staying with their grandparents [especially in the Covington Mill area].”’
The children don’t just get lunch, Holcombe said. They also get time to play. And at the Porterdale Pavilion, they’ve also been introduced to the police department’s canine union, and have blown bubbles with officers, used chalk to create pictures on sidewalks.

Even with the efforts of these groups, Mays said she believe that about 40 percent of the children on free or reduced lunches are going unfed. And, she added, she is becoming increasingly more concerned about the families of the working poor.

“Low income families get food stamps and subsidized housing,” she said, “but I look at people who are working and make a little more than the eligibility guidelines allow and wonder how can we impact those who might have a house, but can’t turn on the lights? How do we touch them?

“Even if I have to step out of my role as a minister or administrator for programs to make sure people are fed, I will,” she said.

Learn more about Action Ministries Smart Lunch, Smart Kid, and the volunteer and sponsorship opportunities at their web site [].

To find a Bright from the Start partner serving site, visit the agency’s web site [] or call (855) 550-7377. For some, the nearest site may not be in Newton County, but in an adjacent county, especially for those living the southeastern area .