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Lunch program aims to get healthy meals to kids
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Ivan Lopez carries a box full of bag lunches into the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County building Friday. The lunches are provided by the Georgia Mountain Food Bank. - photo by Tom Reed

Friday wrapped up a month-long program to bring healthy lunches to kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.

Kay Blackstock, director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, said the Summer Feeding Program was a way to teach kids about healthy choices.

Each day, volunteers assembled 225 lunches to bring to the kids, which included items like turkey sandwiches, apple slices, Chex Mix and juice. Local produce was even included in some of the brown bags.

“We picked 200 pints of blueberries from a farm in Lula,” Blackstock said. “They’re all organically grown, so we bag them and freeze them and bring them back for the lunches.”

During the school year, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank has a program called Munch Bunch that provides healthy after-school snacks.

Blackstock said she wanted to find a way to upgrade the program into a full meal during the summer because more than 60 percent of students in Gainesville and Hall County schools receive free or reduced-price lunches.

“Most of these kids rely on free or reduced(-price) meals during the school year, and what were they going to do during the month of July?” Blackstock said.

Summer school was in session during June and school begins in August, leaving July as the only month where kids could not count on a full meal at school.

Blackstock said she was excited to find a solution to the problem when the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County was awarded a grant.

“We were already planning to do it when the Boys & Girls Clubs here found out there was some grant money available through Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Wal-Mart for a healthy eating initiative,” Blackstock said. “It helped pay for the cost of the food and the transportation and some supplies.

“In addition, we’ve gotten around $4,000 in in-kind food donations, and that’s been really good.”

The healthy food comes with a few lessons, too.

Sandra Stringer, a Georgia Mountain Food Bank board member and a nutrition educator for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, does an educational program at the club twice a month.

“We’ve introduced a lot of different kinds of snacks and choices to the kids,” Blackstock said. “We’re hoping, by the summer of 2011, to have enough data to get funding to do (the program at) multiple sites.”

But the most important thing for Blackstock is that kids do not have to go hungry.

“I know a lot of people find it hard to believe that folks really are having to do without something to eat, but we’ve seen the number of calls increase from people who are looking for emergency food assistance,” Blackstock said. “Especially now where parents have lost jobs and are struggling just to make ends meet; it’s really difficult.”

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