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Groups partner to fight childhood hunger
At-Risk Afterschool MEALS program feeds kids under 18
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Bright From the Start and Adult Care Food Programs training dates

When: Nov. 16
Where: Clarence Brown Conference Center, 5460 Georgia 20, Cartersville

When: Dec. 7
Where: Central Georgia Technical College, "I" Building, 3300 Macon Tech Drive, Macon

When: Jan. 13
Where: Columbus Convention & Trade Center/Iron Works, 801 Front Street, Columbus

More information: Visit the website

 

More than 30 individuals met in Gainesville Wednesday morning with one goal in mind: Tackling childhood hunger.

"We know that kids are hungry in our community. We know that children, more often than not, the meal they get in your program or at school is the only meal they get," said Karen Davis, campaign director for No Kid Hungry. "In America, that should not be happening."

No Kid Hungry is a statewide movement to unite different groups who have feeding programs with the resources and funding they need to expand.

The Georgia Food Bank Association, which includes the local Georgia Mountain Food Bank, is partnering with the national Share Our Strength organization on the effort.

"Share Our Strength works to basically create a center to end childhood hunger by pairing the resources of national nonprofits with the expertise of our local organizations," said Abigail Youngken, field manager for the No Kid Hungry campaign.

The campaign focuses on two main programs: At-Risk Afterschool MEALS in the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program, both governed in Georgia by the Bright From the Start division of the Department of Early Care and Learning, the same department that is over Georgia's pre-kindergarten program.

"Feeding children is such an incredible thing. It sounds like it should be so simple and then we find out it's not," said Danna Foster, regional consultant for Bright from the Start.

The At-Risk Afterschool MEALS program serves children ages 18 and under. It reimburses participant groups with a portion of money to help cover the cost of one meal and one snack, which generally in the school year is one snack and supper, Foster said.

The reimbursement "would go ahead and set you up for two meals and a snack or two snacks and a meal" to be provided, she said.

"An example of a meal or a snack that might be available (in the At-Risk program), say for breakfast, might be some bananas, some milk, some whole-wheat toast," Foster said. "Maybe for lunch you could provide spaghetti, meatballs, apple slices, green beans and milk."

The At-Risk program covers meals and snacks during the school year and on holidays. The Summer Food Service Program comes in when school is out from June to August.

"It will allow you to serve generally two meals, usually breakfast and lunch. Some sponsors like to serve snacks," Foster said. "What we found is that in the summertime, children are encouraged to sleep later because if you sleep later, you kind of miss breakfast, and then we only have to feed you lunch and a snack."

The At-Risk program requires kids to be enrolled at a site with an afterschool program, where they do an educational activity as well as getting fed.

Summer program sites don't have enrollment requirements. Foster said these programs are eligible for areas where 50 percent or more of students are on Free and Reduced Lunch.

Patsy Watkins, executive director of Step of Faith Outreach in Lavonia, knows firsthand the effect of these programs. She shared what she called her testimony to local groups at the breakfast meeting.

"We started out about seven years ago volunteering with three sites in Franklin County. We were going out asking people for donations to feed our community," Watkins said. "We are doing 36 sites today."

Her reimbursements, once enrolled with the food service programs, allowed her to stop fundraising to buy food and start fundraising to provide other services for the kids she helped feed.

In addition to more sites, Watkins was able to get some of the older children in her service area to volunteer with Step of Faith.

She said some of them are now in college, inspired by their experience working with the group. "In those 36 sites we have, this year we did over 68,000 lunches. We've still got a long way to go because it's growing in this area," she said.

"Sometimes I have kids say on the weekends, ‘Ms. Patsy, do you have a breakfast for me?' That says over the weekend they're not getting fed. I go to McDonald's and get a sausage biscuit and give it to the child."

That's an experience Todd Robson of Straight Street Revolution Ministries in Gainesville hopes to have soon.

"We started this program last year, feeding kids that didn't have food over the weekend," he said.

The Backpack Love program fills backpacks with three dinners, two breakfasts and a lunch, enough to feed a family of four or five for the weekend.

"Last year we ended up with 90 backpacks per week, but this year we're already up to 160 per week," Robson said. "We're trying to fund it on donations, and we've got some businesses supporting us, but it's starting to outgrow us."

Kay Blackstock, executive director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, said like Robson, most of the local groups present at the meeting were faith-based. Others were afterschool daycare providers or clubs such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.

"This is the biggest network in Georgia," said Danah Craft, executive director of the Georgia Food Bank Association. "We distributed 77 million pounds of food to 1.4 million households in Georgia last year. That's one in eight people, but one in six are hungry. That's a gap we've still got to fill."

 

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