As students in Hall County finish their school year, they are headed home for the summer, where some of them may not have the same access to breakfast and lunch that they receive while in school. However, several organizations, as well as the Gainesville and Hall school systems, are stepping in to fill the gap and provide summer meals.
Kay Blackstock, executive director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, said families often rely on the free or reduced-price meals students receive at school, and during the summer, parents may struggle to provide those meals or will skip meals so their children can eat.
“In the summertime when children are out of school, there are two meals those families were counting on to feed the children that are now gone,” Blackstock said. “The families who are already struggling then have to find a way to make up those meals for the kids.”
The food bank works with the University of North Georgia’s Summer Food Service Program, which receives funding from the United Way of Hall County and is affiliated with the state’s Bright from the Start program. The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning’s nutrition site has a database where families can find meal sites near them.
The food service program will operate several sites in Hall County this summer, where students can receive breakfast and lunch. The program partners with Forsyth County Schools, which prepares the meals for sites in Hall, Forsyth and Dawson counties.
Any child who goes to the site can receive a meal, according to Pamela Elfenbein, a UNG professor who leads the program. Elfenbein said the meals meet the same U.S. Department of Agriculture standards set for meals served in schools, so the program provides healthier alternatives to what may be widely available for a cheap price. About 600 children receive meals through the program each day, and many sites serve food five days a week.
Another program providing summer meals is Action Ministries’ Smart Lunch, Smart Kid initiative, which is projected to serve slightly under 10,000 meals in Hall County this year. Action Ministries has identified three communities to focus on this summer and will bring meals directly to students who receive free or reduced-price meals at school.
“We take these meals directly into the communities, which removes the barrier of lack of transportation for the families we serve,” said Amy Olvey, Action Ministries’ director for hunger programs.
Volunteers from organizations such as businesses or churches, as well as families and other groups, can volunteer to purchase, prepare and serve meals for the program. Anyone interested in volunteering or receiving meals for their family can email email@example.com or call Action Ministries at 404-881-1991.
Schools in both Gainesville and Hall County will also be serving lunch and breakfast during the summer. Hall County Schools will also be operating a mobile site, visiting two neighborhoods near Chicopee Woods Elementary School.
For more information on Gainesville’s summer meals, call 770-536-5275, and for Hall schools, call 770-534-1080.The USDA publishes summer meal sites on its website, where families can go to find the meals closest to them.