On Thursday, Action Ministries hosted a “pay it forward” program in which children from low-income neighborhoods helped make 60 lunches for other needy children.
“So many of us don’t get the opportunity to give back to the community,” said program coordinator Beth Holmes.“When you offer children that opportunity, they really embrace it and seem to enjoy it.”
The events grew out of the ministries’ “smart lunch” program, which provides healthy lunches during the summer months to children who qualify for free lunches during the school year. Action Ministries often joins forces with the University of North Georgia’s Startline program and the Free Chapel church to provide summer activities as well as lunches.
This year, the children at the Countryside Village mobile home park offered to help volunteers make lunches for kids at other sites. This quickly turned into the “pay it forward” program, which Action Ministries hopes to make a regular event every summer, said program coordinator David Holmes.
“We love being there for the kids in need every day and this lets them see how it feels to be giving back,” he said.
Startline, which consists of student volunteers from the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, visits Green Hunter Homes three times a week to host activities such as painting, games, making ice cream and coloring with chalk. The apartment complex’s community room is decorated with paintings and American flags the children have made.
Startline hosted an arts and crafts activity with the kids at Thursday’s event.
“We like it because there are some fun things,” said 7-year-old Yoscelin Flores. “I like the painting, coloring, catching bugs, and there are good things to eat.”
The event even attracted some of Gainesville’s community leaders. City Councilman George Wangemann helped make about 15 sandwiches.
“I think it’s a great program that fills a need in the community,” he said. “It helps provide nutrition to kids and helps keep government costs lower. These are times when revenues are down so I think it’s important.”
Action Ministries provides summer lunches to children in need Monday through Friday at Green Hunter Homes, Countryside Village mobile home park, the Melrose Community and Harrison Square Apartments. The lunches themselves consist of meat or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a crunchy snack like tortilla chips, fruit cups or fruit snacks, and fruit juice.
Though there was a small turnout due to a concurrent Bible school, David Holmes said there are usually about 50 children who participate in Action Ministries’ events.
However, this wasn’t always the case. After a June 3 slaying near Peppers Market near Green Hunter Homes, participation dropped to two to six children a day.
“It was empty here,” said David Holmes. “No one came outside.”
Action Ministries considered closing the program at the site but, after much discussion, decided to continue operating.
“Now there are a lot of kids that come out,” he said. “Even with what’s gone on in this neighborhood, these kids feel like it is a safe place.”