By Kristen D’Souza, AAJA JCamp 2019 — Atlanta
Santia Moore works with a nonprofit that feeds kids when school isn’t in session. She has become accustomed to meeting kids who go hungry at home — -and yet, last fall, she was touched by what she learned from a boy she met on a Friday afternoon, devouring a weekend’s worth of food minutes after he’d received it.
“I said to him, ‘Why are you eating this now? This is meant for the weekend,’” Moore recalled. “He told me, ‘I have to eat it now, or my mom will eat it when I get home’,”
As Moore recounts the boy’s desperation to get the most out of his two-days’ ration, she said it’s not uncommon for elementary school students in the area to be uncertain about where their next meal may come from. Action Ministries, the nonprofit that Moore works for, started two meal service programs to address the issue of food insecurity in the greater Atlanta-area.
One runs during the school year on the weekends. And the other program runs throughout the summer, serving children whose most consistent source of food may be the school meal.
The Action Ministries’ DeKalb County distribution facility operates out of a United Methodist church, where Moore oversees the daily shipment of dozens of cardboard boxes, filled with brown paper-bag sandwiches and chips. According to Moore, the summer program — Smart Kids, Smart Lunch — is able to service 450 kids a day with a bagged meal.
The summer meals program has grown to fit the needs of the children it serves.
Juan Rosario, an assistant apartment manager, said that he has begun to pick up an increasing number of bagged lunches to feed the kids in his complex.
When the program began, “it was 12 kids, now it’s like, 52,” Rosario said.
Laura DeGroot, a volunteer and event manager at Action Ministries, plans to expand the outreach program to accommodate for the growing need.
“Right now, we have recorded 15,000 [volunteers] per year, on average,” DeGroot said. “Our goal for the next few years is to double that.”
Moore says that finding a consistent source of food can be challenging for the children of low-income families in DeKalb County and neighboring communities.
“Most of the kids are probably at home by themselves,” she said. “The kids that we do feed, the majority of them are on free or reduced lunch,” — a federal program for eligible low-income families.
In food insecure areas, parents of school-aged children have trouble affording or accessing nutritional food.
“If the nearest grocery store is a Publix, that’s not ideal for a family — or a mom with five, six kids,” because of the cost, “ Moore said. “It’s cheaper to go to McDonald’s and get a meal and split it between the kids, than go to the grocery store and purchase fresh fruit.”
Fresh fruit, however, is a rarity even at the Action Ministries’ distribution facility in Tucker, GA., which operates out of a United Methodist church building. Often, the meals that are provided to students must be perishable and can be stored for extended periods of time.
At one point, Moore emptied the contents of a plastic bag, demonstrating what the program’s take-home meals look like. Spread out on the table were cans of soup, fruit cups, Ramen and beef jerky. Then again, in a community where kids might otherwise get nothing at all, canned food may be a necessary if not healthful option.