More than 400 children in Gainesville will look forward to lunch every day over the summer, something that may not have been guaranteed for all of them.
Smart Lunch, Smart Kid, a program through Action Ministries, will provide lunches for hundreds of children at three different housing authorities.
Children who receive free or reduced-price lunch throughout the school year will be given a sack lunch each weekday, prepared by local volunteers.
“We’ve been identifying children that are in need of our services, that are food insecure,” said Felissa Elfenbein, local program coordinator. “There are days that they do go hungry over the summer if there are not people out there that bring food to them.”
Volunteers will put together a lunch each day that will be delivered to the three sites: Atlanta Street, Pearl Nix and Harrison Square.
“We’re going to feed them right there in their neighborhoods,” said Mark Hellman, Smart Lunch, Smart Kid executive director. “They don’t have to walk anywhere or their parents don’t have to drive them anywhere to get fed.”
There are other programs like this in the area, but what makes this particular program effective, Hellman said, is the lunches are brought to the children’s homes.
“There’s a population of kids that are not being served by other site-based feeding programs,” he said. “Not all the children can get there safely, so we want to reach out to those children.”
On top of being fed, the program aims to get community volunteers to spend the lunch hour with the children, sharing with them or just reading a book.
“It’s an hourlong space we have with these kids to bring them whatever educational opportunities there are,” said Elfenbein.
According to Action Ministries, more than 800,000 students in Georgia receive free or reduced-price lunch.
When the school year ends, that guaranteed meal ends, too.
In Hall County, about 33 percent of children are considered as “food insecure,” meaning they have “limited or uncertain access to adequate food and are at risk of hunger.”
“It’s so important because without this program the kids basically have no idea when their next meal is coming,” Elfenbein said. “Not knowing when you’re going to eat next can’t be a good thing — for them growing or learning or reaching greater heights or anything.”
The program will begin May 29 in Gainesville and run for 10 weeks, until school starts back.
Smart Lunch, Smart Kid is still looking for area volunteers to make the lunches, deliver them or just spend time with the children.
“Everybody sees the need for this,” Hellman said. “A lot of (volunteers) were surprised this problem happens. It’s not something they think about over the summer.”
For more information or to volunteer, contact Elfenbein at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-531-0144, ext. 5644.