Summer vacation is supposed to be a joyful time for kids. But for some, summer is the hungry time.
With school out, meals are fewer and farther between for some students in Rockdale, who face empty shelves and growling bellies.
But a network of local nonprofits, the school system, ministries, churches, and individual volunteers is working hard to eliminate that in Rockdale.
The "Be Bright, Eat Right Rockdale" summer lunch campaign, now in its second year, coordinates three separate efforts to feed more than 3,000 hungry children in Conyers-Rockdale.
These three different organizations began coordinating last year to avoid overlap and cover as many children as possible in different areas. They are:
- Rockdale County Public Schools (using federal funds) in the CJ Hicks Elementary, Pine Street Elementary and Peeks Chapel Elementary school zones with two bus routes that leave out of PSE and two bus routes that leave out of PCE; also operates free lunch walk-in locations at PSE, PCE, and Rockdale County High School. June 1-July 24, M-F
- Rockdale Emergency Relief (using private donations and volunteer labor only) in the Lakeview Drive and Irwin Bridge Road areas in Olde Town Conyers. May 26-July 31, M-F
- Bread Of Life Development (BOLD) Ministries, serving in and around the Lakeview Estates neighborhood and throughout the county. May 26-July 31, M-F
There is no requirement to participate other than the child be under 18 years old.
The largest program out of the three partners is BOLD Ministries, which implements the Summer Food Service Program funded by the USDA, administered by Bright from the Start under the Ga. Dept. of Early Care and Learning.
This year, RCPS has been contracted to assemble 2,500 of the lunches, which BOLD Ministries distributes and serves. Locations include Macedonia Baptist Church, Agape Fellowship Christian Church, Excell Educational Coaches, Kidspot at Springfield Baptist Church, three locations in the Lakeview Estates community, the Lett Center on Hardin Street, Spivey Community Center in the Conyers Housing Authority neighborhood, and SNAP of Georgia on Lake Rockaway Road.
For more information, go to wwww.boldministries.org or 770-929-3019.
Air-conditioned yellow school busses with the bright blue "Be Bright, Eat Right Rockdale" logo on the side depart from Peeks Chapel Elementary and Pine Street Elementary each morning to bring 600-800 sack lunches to more than 20 locations. The busses stay at each location for about 20 minutes each. The lunches must be served and eaten on location to ensure the children are getting the nutrition they need. RCPS also serves lunch to any kids that walk into Peeks Chapel Elementary or Pine Street Elementary or Rockdale County High School, where the meals are prepared.
RCPS Food Services Director Peggy Lawrence, said "There is a need in our community. So many people don't think there's a need. People don't understand why we're doing this."
"But when you go to where they live... I've had parents contacting me saying ‘You don't know what this means to me.' As a mom myself, I know my grocery bill goes up during the summer. It is a big expense for families. I had a mother who contacted me last week. She said she has two special needs children, two other children, she's lost her job, she doesn't have a car. To have food come to her neighborhood is a blessing."
The sack lunches must meet all the same guidelines as food served in schools during the school year and includes the same emphasis on fresh foods and whole grains. They're served a sandwich, fresh vegetables, a fruit item, and a drink each day with a five day rotating menu. This also means working out details such as how to sneak in a serving of beans. "Kids do not go ‘Yay, legumes.' They just don't," said Lawrence, smiling. That legume serving became a black bean salsa dip with whole grain chip scoops, served on Wednesdays.
But the biggest challenge has been getting the right route locations to target exactly where the children in need are. It's a learning process, said Lawrence. Some locations, such as retail locations, did not see great turnout and showed employees that they need to go to where the children live.
All the food service employees that worked last year on RCPS's summer feeding program - about 40 or so employees - returned this year, said Lawrence.
"These are their kids," said Lawrence. "They're the ones seeking these kids every day" during the school year. And the summer feeding program allows them to see the kids in their own neighborhoods. "I think it speaks to the fact they feel like they're doing good."
Last year, about 36,000 meals were served in the summer lunch program.
Rockdale Emergency Relief
Rockdale Emergency Relief depends on volunteer labor and donations, RER organizers emphasize.
"This is all volunteers, all donations. We are not federally funded," said Jeannine Goggans, Summer Lunch Program coordinator.
"The thing that is distinctive about RER's program is the way in which it is grassroots, volunteer-intensive, and hands-on," said RER Director Andy Peabody. "Volunteers from the community actually produce and deliver the lunches, which creates the opportunity for learning. Parents talk to kids about hunger and food instability. Volunteers get to connect with a part of their community that might otherwise simply pass by unnoticed. Not only are children in need provided with nutritional resources to help them thrive, I genuinely think that this particular way of doing summertime feeding helps the whole community to thrive."
Because the program is run on private donations, it's more flexible than the RCPS program. The lunches do not have to be consumed on site. A child can pick up a lunch and take several others for their brothers and sisters as well.
There are about 300 meals assembled at Conyers First United Methodist and about 100 out of Salem United Methodist this year.
"Of course we could not operate this donation only, volunteer-run, grassroots community based feeding program without the literally hundreds of individuals who give their time one or more days each week to make sandwiches, pack lunches, check lunches and deliver sack lunches on three routes," said Goggans.
RER asks groups to "adopt" a day on the calendar and to donate the materials and assemble the lunches.
And many churches and groups have stepped up to the plate.
Conyers Presbyterian, Ebenezer UMC, and Salem UMC have each committed to adopting a day out of the week for each of the 10 weeks of the program.
Other churches and groups that have adopted one day include: CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Covenant Fellowship Church, Discover Point Church, Smyrna Presbyterian Church, St. Simons Episcopal Church, Crossroads UMC, Philadelphia UMC, Presbyterian Church of the Redeemer, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Union UMC, Kiwanis group, WOWs from Rockdale Magnet School, Rockdale Medical Center, Conyers Presbyterian Church Vacation Bible School.
But more volunteer groups are needed, especially for the remaining Fridays, said Goggans.
To sign up or for more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-922-9210.