Summer meals program feeds thousands of Georgia children

- Summer means freedom for Georgia school students, but it can also mean hunger for thousands of children.

That's why the Atlanta Community Food Bank is teaming up with local grassroots organizations to make sure at-risk students have access to summer meals.

Inside Voices of Faith Church in Stone Mountain, rising tenth grader Kennedy Alexander and her little brother Reuben, a ninth grader, are part of a group of teens some picking apart, some digging in, a free lunch provided to summer campers.

"Today we have a fish sandwich with cheese and cold broccoli with applesauce and chocolate milk," says Alexander.

She's lukewarm on the fish.

Reuben is more enthusiastic.

"Lunch is great," he says.

Jon West, Vice President of Programs for the Atlanta Community Food Bank, says child hunger is a very real problem in Georgia.

"We've got 1 out of every 4 kids who at some point in the year don't know where their next meal is coming from," West says.  "So, that's a significant number."

During the school year, about 900,000 thousand children statewide, or 63 percent of public school students, rely on the federally-funded free and reduced meal program, some for both breakfast and lunch.

But, during the summer break,  Jon West worries many of those kids are losing their access to these regular meals and may be going hungry.

"We know a lot of families, they count on those meals during the school year," West says. "Think about our own budget.  If you had to add in 10 meals every week for your kids, you'd struggle to do that, probably. These families are no different."

So, to reach out to families -- and kids -- who might need assistance, the Atlanta Community Food Bank is partnering with community-based groups like BOLD Ministries, which Executive Director Barbara Muse says is in its ninth summer of providing free breakfast and lunch to thousands of kids through the Summer Meal Program.

"The challenge in is Georgia, in a lot of placed where there are no sidewalks, or transportation, making sure that those kids are connected with those meals," Muse says.  "So we do serve meals, free summer meals at a lot of walk-in sites, some camp, some daycare (facilities), and parks."

Many parents may not know this program is here.

The Atlanta Community Food Bank says only 17 percent of children who qualify have taken advantage of these free meals.

To find one in your area, text FOODGA to 877-877.

Then, type in your zip code.

"You'll get a text message back that is going to tell you the three closest locations where you can take your kids down and get a free meal for the summer," West says.  "So, it a great solution."

You can also call 211 for information on feeding sites for children in your area.

To find out more about the Summer Meals Program, visit http://acfb.org/tags/summer-hunger.

MUST Ministries is providing summer meals to children in the north metro Atlanta counties.  For more information on the program, visit https://mustministries.org/mobile/mobile-summer-lunch

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