Children laughed and screamed excitedly as they held their balloons up in the air waiting for the countdown to finish so they could let go and watch them float away.
The children and many volunteers with the Georgia Mountain Food Bank celebrated the launch of the food bank’s Summer Lunch Bag Program with a kickoff event Friday afternoon at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County in Gainesville.
The program aims to feed some of the county’s most at-risk children during the summer when they’re not receiving free or reduced-price lunches at school.
Last year, the program was able to feed more than 13,000 meals to children at feeding sites in Lumpkin and Hall counties. This year the number of children served is expected to double.
The food bank has partnered with the University of North Georgia in the Summer Feeding Service Program, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutritional Division, to provide healthy lunch meals to 500-700 kids each day this summer.
“At the end of the summer we will have provided 25,000 meals at eight different locations in two different counties,” said Kay Blackstock, executive director of the food bank.
The food bank partnered with the Georgia Food Bank Association to play host to the event.
Michele Chivore, Georgia Food Bank Association’s campaign director for Childhood Hunger Programs, smiled as she watched the excited children chase after the balloons.
“We felt it was really important for us to be able to do several kickoff events to really bring awareness to childhood hunger,” Chivore said. “In the summertime, a lot of kids don’t have access to food like they do in the course of the school year so we wanted to start the summer with some real big awareness that kids need access to meals. It’s important for parents to be aware of locations where they can actually go and access those meals for their kids, but also for organizations to know so they can serve as sites and do meal service as well.”
There are four summer feeding sites in Hall County: the Boys & Girls Clubs, Downey Club and J.W. Walters Club, RISE at Gainesville Housing Authority, and the Veteran’s Community Outreach Center.
Blackstock praised the many volunteers and organizations who have made the program possible.
Among many other volunteers the North Hall High School basketball team packed lunches donated by Arby’s for Friday’s event. The Jackson EMC foundation provided a $10,000 grant to the program. Milton Martin Honda donated a Honda Odyssey van to use for food deliveries. More than 5,150 pounds of food was donated by Performance Foodservice to be used in the meals.
“That’s another reason why we wanted to have this today,” Blackstock said. “We wanted the opportunity to have as many of the people that are working so hard to make this possible at a place where they could all see the kids and be together and have a little celebration.”
Steven Mickens, chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs, said the strong partnerships between nonprofits in Gainesville and Hall County make the community a better place for future generations.
“Its seems like the community is taking care of itself,” Mickens said. “It’s the business leaders and everyone giving back to the nonprofits in the community and we are taking care of ourselves. Which I think is the way America should be.
“... If you’re investing in your children, what I think is going to happen is we see 628 kids every day, 5,000 throughout the year we serve. These kids graduate, they go off to college. They come back and work at the local business in the community. They start buying cars from the car dealerships, shopping at community food stores, pay taxes. They just kind of end up giving it all back into this community. That’s what I think is a great thing about it.”