Mission Underway to Feed Hungry Kids with School Out
With schools now out for the summer, options are popping up to provide food for children and their families.
“We know that there is a certain percentage of the population, a big percentage, who live on the borderline of not being able to feed themselves and their children,” said Kay Blackstock, executive director of Georgia Mountain Food Bank. “The meals the children receive while in school ease the burden on the family.”
But when schools are out for a couple of months, the burden increases for a family already walking that edge.
Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said many families have problems paying for groceries, and even if they have some money for food, the available choices are usually not very nutritious.
“These are not parents that are deadbeats,” she said. “These are parents that are working two, three jobs and often leaving the care of the children to maybe a (teenager) in the summer. That’s a lot of extra meals to provide that they have not done so over the school year.”
The food bank estimates around 13 percent of all Hall families have “difficulty affording food,” but Blackstock said she believes the true number is much higher, citing the number of students in the free and reduced lunch program in both the county and city school systems.
Hall County serves around 60 percent in that program, while 76 percent of Gainesville students are counted. Though those numbers are not indicative of the number of families with limited access to food outside of school hours, school officials acknowledge it’s tough for people living in poverty.
Lyman Hall Elementary Principal Robert Wilson said he knows many students’ families struggle with getting food on the table.
“The biggest thing for us is, we know they’re getting, in most cases, two meals a day,” he said about students attending summer school this June and July. Breakfast will be provided by the school system, and the nearby Cresswind community will provide lunches.
During the school year, Wilson said bookbags with food are given away every Friday for families who otherwise would not have food over the weekend.
There is a similar program at Gainesville Exploration Academy. Principal Renee Boatright said around 15 families get bookbags every weekend while school is in session.
“That tells you just on the surface of families that need extra help,” she said.
“And as you know, food is not cheap anymore,” Boatright added. “It is so expensive, even for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Most of us live paycheck to paycheck, so it is very difficult for our parents.”
“The numbers that we see, we believe, are actually a whole lot bigger than what we hear,” Blackstock said. “By implementing this program in as many areas we can, where the children are already gathered or have access to the site, we believe that we’re really filling a gap.”
The Georgia Mountain Food Bank Summer Lunch Bags Program will provide meals at various sites over the next eight weeks, beginning June 2, in locations across Hall, Lumpkin and Forsyth counties. In Hall County, meals will be at the Boys & Girls Clubs J.W. Walters and Downey locations, along with various camps including Brenau’s RISE summer enrichment program.
In another outreach effort, the food bank’s mobile pantry program hands out groceries to families every other Saturday, setting up locations at both Oak Grove Baptist Church and Montgomery Memorial Baptist Church.
Delivered options depend on what’s available at the food bank, but typically include frozen meats, produce, baked goods and some supply of dry goods.
For both programs, Blackstock asked people to call the food bank at 770-534-4111 for more specific information. Also, volunteers are needed.
Separately, Gainesville City Schools has two sites in the Seamless Summer Option program, at Fair Street and Gainesville Middle schools. The breakfasts and lunches are served Monday through Friday, from June 2-27.
Children under 18 eat free; adults pay $1.50 for breakfast and $2.75 for lunch. It’s open to all.
Director of School Nutrition Penny Fowler said she anticipates feeding around 150 people daily at each site for breakfast, and an additional 300 for lunch.
Dyer said it’s not only about making sure children are eating, but that they’re eating nutritious food.
“We can be assured that children are eating ... food that will help develop their body and mind,” Dyer said. “Having the summer meal service certainly makes our summer programs more attractive for parents and the students.”
The need hasn’t really decreased over the years, Blackstock said. And, while hundreds will be fed this summer through these programs and other agencies like local church programs, she said she doesn’t think the need will fully be met.
“There are those communities and those children that fall through the cracks, and the families are connected to the child,” Blackstock said. “We think, really, the face of hunger is a whole lot different certainly than it used to be and there are so many families that have struggled for so long and resources are depleted. We still have a good bit of work to do.”
Posted May 28, 2014