FILL­ING THE GAP FOR HUN­GRY CHIL­DREN

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - SAN­DRA BRANDS sbrands@cov­news.com

Bad enough to be cooped up in the house dur­ing the sum­mer be­cause par­ents are at work and child care is cost pro­hib­i­tive. But imag­ine be­ing stuck in­side and not hav­ing any­thing to eat.

Dur­ing the school year, free or re­duced lunch pro­grams pro­vide meals to chil­dren whose fam­ily is strug­gling, eco­nom­i­cally. Those break­fasts and lunches are avail­able in June, af­ter school lets out, at sum­mer “camp” school pro­grams.

But come July 1, school and camps served by the dis­trict are out, work­ing to get ready for the next aca­demic year.

Where do chil­dren get the meals fam­i­lies counted on be­tween July 1 and July 31? In­stead of be­ing a care­free –and much an­tic­i­pated—break from stud­ies, sum­mer threat­ens to be a hun­gry time for some kids.

That’s where non­profit groups, some con­nected to gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies and al­most all con­nected to faith com­mu­ni­ties, come in. This sum­mer, as they have in years past, they will pro­vide free lunches to chil­dren at “feed­ing” sites, some out­side at park pavil­ions, some in­side in church fel­low­ship halls.

Food pro­gram be­gan as a per­sonal com­mit­ment

Feed­ing chil­dren is per­sonal for Cathryn Lafayette.

“When I was a child, my fa­ther was killed in a car ac­ci­dent and my mom was the only source of in­come. When she be­came very ill, she signed my sis­ter and I up to get free meals at school, but on days when school was out, we didn’t have enough food.

“If it hadn’t been for the school pro­grams [on the West side of Chicago], I wouldn’t have had enough to eat,” she said.

That ex­pe­ri­ence made her sen­si­tive to the needs of the chil­dren in her com­mu­nity, she said. Eight years ago, she be­gan feed­ing about 20 chil­dren meals she paid for her­self. Over the next five years, the num­ber steadily in­creased as she found more and more hun­gry chil­dren liv­ing in the En­clave at Gross Lake sub­di­vi­sions and Coun­try Walk and Salem Glen mo­bile parks un­til, she said, she knew, “I just couldn’t feed them all, so I asked God to help me find a grant.”

She turned to the Bread of Lift De­vel­op­ment (BOLD) Min­istries, another Bright

from the Start part­ner in New­ton County. “Now, we’re feed­ing up to 4,000 chil­dren. I don’t want chil­dren walk­ing away hun­gry.”

“We have good chil­dren, we need to do some­thing for them,” she said.

Cur­rently, she is try­ing to get help clear­ing out un­der­brush on lots she’s been given per­mis­sion to use, so chil­dren will have a place to play ball or run around. She is also hop­ing to get fund­ing to start a mo­bile ser­vice, de­liv­er­ing meals to the neigh­bor­hoods where the hun­gry chil­dren live. No child leaves un­fed

While the chil­dren who qual­ify for the free or re­duced lunch pro­grams are school age, most of the sites will chil­dren ages 1 through 18, and some­times older, if the child is dis­abled.

Like many of those who are com­mit­ted to see­ing that chil­dren are fed dur­ing the sum­mer, Bea Jack­son, who over­sees the pro­gram at St. Paul’s AME Church on Brown Bridge, will not turn away a child who is hun­gry.

“If you’re hun­gry and you show up at a feed­ing site, you can eat,” she said. Though the

pro­gram is gear to­wards chil­dren in kinder­garten through 12th grade, “some of the kinder­garten­ers have younger sib­lings and they are fed, too. We just can’t feed adults.”

Lunches will be served through­out July at the church, Mon­day through Thurs­day, at noon. The meals are pro­vided by Rock of Sal­va­tion Min­istries in Por­terdale, which is the New­ton County part­ner/ad­min­is­tra­tor for Ge­or­gia’s Bright from the Start pro­gram [http://de

cal.ga.gov/].

The church, its pas­tor, Robin Mays, said, fronts the money for the pro­gram costs and is re­im­bursed by the state. Mays es­ti­mates Bright from the Start lunches are feed­ing 1,200 chil­dren in New­ton County his year.

To be able to re­ceive meals through the Bright from the Start pro­gram, an or­ga­ni­za­tion must be a non­profit. Mays and staff mem­bers have taken a re­quired two-day train­ing pro­gram, learn­ing, in part, about food pat­terns and the USDA guide­lines on what con­sti­tutes a nu­tri­tious meal. For ex­am­ple, all meals must be served with plain or cho­co­late fat-free milk. A lunch must con­tain meat, grains, a serv­ing of fruit and one of veg­eta­bles. Sim­i­lar guide­lines are fol­lowed for break­fast, with Rock of Sal­va­tion also packs, and din­ner.

Mays not only pro­vides meals for chil­dren in New­ton County. The min­istry pro­vides meals to non­prof­its in Ful­ton, DeKalb, Gwin­net, Rock­dale, Franklin, Henry and Monroe coun­ties, as well as Perry Holmes and other hous­ing au­thor­ity com­mu­ni­ties in metro At­lanta . In all, ROS will pre­pare meals for over 5,000 chil­dren and she es­ti­mates 1,200 will be served to chil­dren from New­ton County. While the num­ber of chil­dren needed lunches con­tin­ues to rise, she said, the num­ber of sites par­tic­i­pat­ing in the feed­ing pro­grams have de­creased from 34 to 24 this year.

That doesn’t mean the num­ber of feed­ing sites have de­creased, nec­es­sar­ily, just the num­ber of sites re­quest­ing the USDA sub­si­dized Bright from the Start ser­vices have dropped. That may be, Mays said, due to the amount of ad­min­is­tra­tive pa­per­work re­quired.

“That’s why a lot of peo­ple [who feed chil­dren] opt not to do it,” she said.

“Bright from the Start is a use­ful won­der­ful pro­gram and I hope it con­tin­ues,” she said, “but for many, there are too many rules and reg­u­la­tions mak­ing it harder to feed chil­dren. A lot of faith com­mu­ni­ties are look­ing for ways to feed chil­dren with­out turn­ing to the gov­ern­ment. “

To be a feed­ing site, Jack­son said, the ap­pli­ca­tion process be­gins in Jan­uary. Since over 60 per­cent of stu­dents at New­ton County schools are on the free or re­duced school lunch pro­gram, food ser­vice pro­grams like St. Paul’s are el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive meals through Bright from the Start.

For the church, though, Jack­son said, “It’s a com­mu­nity out­reach and min­istry to peo­ple who live in the nearby com­mu­nity who are need. It’s mak­ing sure peo­ple who wouldn’t have can have.

“We’re all con­nected,” she said. Build­ing net­works, keep­ing in touch

Though it just opened doors in New­ton County in May, Ac­tion Min­istries has at­tracted sup­port, pri­mar­ily from faith com­mu­ni­ties, for its Smart Lunch, Smart Kids sum­mer pro­gram.

It works like this: An or­ga­ni­za­tion agrees to spon­sor a day’s lunch, pro­vid­ing the in­gre­di­ents for a lunch and vol­un­teers to pack the lunch. Most have vol­un­teers who join Ta­mara Richard­son, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, and El­iz­a­beth Hol­comb, County Co­or­di­na­tor for the Smart Lunch, Smart Kid pro­gram, in serv­ing the meal.

So far, sup­port­ers have for the pro­gram have in­cluded Kelly Prod­ucts in Cov­ing­ton, the Por­terdale Citizen’s Po­lice Academy Alumni of Ge­or­gia, and seven area churches.

Chil­dren and their fam­i­lies could learn about the pro­gram through fly­ers dis­trib­uted in the Cov­ing­ton Mills area. There, meals are be­ing served at the Cov­ing­ton Mills United Methodist Church, which is also pro­vid­ing the lunch, on Tues­days from 3 to 5 p.m.

The meal pro­gram was also in­tro­duced to the com­mu­nity at a re­cent Por­terdale City block part\spon­sored by the city and the po­lice depart­ment. At the gath­er­ing, Hol­combe said, about 120 chil­dren were signed up for the pro­gram; so far, only 50 have at­tended. In

“Once word of mouth gets out it’s truly a meal, not any­thing scary, I think kids will start com­ing,” Hol­combe said. “Some of the chil­dren are stay­ing with their grand­par­ents [es­pe­cially in the Cov­ing­ton Mill area].”’

The chil­dren don’t just get lunch, Hol­combe said. They also get time to play. And at the Por­terdale Pav­il­ion, they’ve also been in­tro­duced to the po­lice depart­ment’s ca­nine union, and have blown bub­bles with of­fi­cers, used chalk to cre­ate pic­tures on side­walks.

Even with the ef­forts of these groups, Mays said she be­lieve that about 40 per­cent of the chil­dren on free or re­duced lunches are go­ing un­fed. And, she added, she is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly more con­cerned about the fam­i­lies of the work­ing poor.

“Low in­come fam­i­lies get food stamps and sub­si­dized hous­ing,” she said, “but I look at peo­ple who are work­ing and make a lit­tle more than the el­i­gi­bil­ity guide­lines al­low and won­der how can we im­pact those who might have a house, but can’t turn on the lights? How do we touch them?

“Even if I have to step out of my role as a min­is­ter or ad­min­is­tra­tor for pro­grams to make sure peo­ple are fed, I will,” she said.

Learn more about Ac­tion Min­istries Smart Lunch, Smart Kid, and the vol­un­teer and spon­sor­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties at their web site [http://ac­tionmin­istries.net/ lo­ca­tions/cov­ing­ton/].

To find a Bright from the Start part­ner serv­ing site, visit the agency’s web site [ http:// de­cal. ga. gov/ Nutri

tion/Search.aspx] or call (855) 550-7377. For some, the near­est site may not be in New­ton County, but in an ad­ja­cent county, es­pe­cially for those liv­ing the south­east­ern area .

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