Ending Summer Hunger: “Every Kid, Everywhere.”

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In my role working in youth engagement for the No Kid Hungry campaign, I have had the chance to travel to many communities across the country. Burke County in Georgia is one of my favorite places to visit. Each time I’m there, I learn something new about what it takes to feed every student in a large school district. Donna Martin, the now-retired school nutrition director, has made this place special.

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Donna Martin and Riya

When I asked Jada, a graduated senior from Burke County, how she defined community, she said “the school district is literally the center of the community.” 

It’s a rural community, but the largest county in the state by land mass, spreading across 835 square miles. Despite the distance, there is only one school district in the county and all the schools are located in one central campus. The district provides transportation to and from school. Based on the socioeconomic status of the students in the county, the district also provides free breakfast, lunch, after-school, and summer meals. The district takes care of all of their students, and it starts with nutrition.

I’ve witnessed it first-hand. I spent days on their campus, talking to school nutrition staff, teachers, students, school board members – the whole lot. I know how much the kitchen staff love scratch cooking, and I’ll never share their secret for the perfect blueberry muffins. I’ve sat with kids in the cafeteria, and found out everyone’s favorite breakfast item (the cheesy grits of course). I’ve tried Farmer Pete’s local collards, and there’s a good reason why they’re famous.

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The district utilizes every resource they can. In fact, Burke County was one of the first districts in the country to use their school buses to provide summer meals.

In December of 2022, Congress approved changes so it’s easier for families in rural areas to access meals for their children. Now, organizations can deliver meals to families or let them take and eat meals at home. Before, parents had to bring their kids to meal sites where they had to eat their meals. 

This change is a big deal for families in Burke county.

Originally, Burke County didn’t qualify for the new program. They weren’t designated as a rural area on the federal map. It took Donna months to get that problem fixed. There were a lot of calls, emails, and even some light stalking, but the change was finally made. I happened to be there when she found out they were approved, and you could just feel Donna’s joy and relief.

Donna celebrating the new rule


Now, the district can deliver meal boxes to kids in the community, all summer long. These boxes have seven days’ worth of fresh milk, meals, and produce, and the district delivers 3500 boxes each week.

Without this new program, Burke County wouldn't be able to feed students nearly as effectively, Martin explained.

Monica Joga, a bus driver, said it best: “For us to be able to go door to door in the rural areas, knowing that there's children in these areas, is a game-changer. They get their food, win-win. We get to feed you and you get to eat it. Everybody smiles.”

I always smile when I’m in Burke County. I’m always inspired by the dedication of each and every person, and all that it takes to make nutrition programs successful. When I asked Martin what motivated her, she said that nothing is going to stop them from reaching “every kid, everywhere.”

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Every person I’ve ever spoken to who works for Burke County schools shares a passion for feeding young people. I know what these programs mean for students, but also what it means for people that get the honor of being part of them. They give their all, each and every day, and they know their purpose – whether it’s the nutrition staff, students, bus drivers, or volunteers, nothing stops them from feeding every kid, everywhere. In some ways, that’s my purpose too. I’m grateful for communities like Burke County and people like Donna Martin, who have accepted and inspired me so much. 

Ways You Can Help:

Donate:  1 dollar can help provide 10 meals* for kids. Your support will help us fund meal programs all over the country and help us advocate for policies that will help kids get the meals they need"

*Donations help support programs that feed kids; No Kid Hungry does not provide individual meals. Learn more at   NoKidHungry.org/OneDollar