Fields of peanuts, cotton and vegetables. This is what you will see as you travel through the rural community of Colquitt County in Georgia. But beyond the picturesque scene, you may not realize the challenges that families and kids in the community experience.
Denise Pope, social worker at the Colquitt County School District, sees these struggles every day in the kids she serves. “It's heartbreaking,” she shared, describing how families have to drive miles to find a supermarket, how many of the Latin American migrant workers have to live in mixed-family households and the fact that some parents struggle with addiction to drugs.
The nutrition department at the school district was already working hard to ensure kids had access to school meals, but what happened to kids on weekends?
“When it came to Monday mornings, kids would come off the bus and they would eat absolutely everything on their tray… just because they were so hungry,” shared Tonya Parker, nutrition staff at the district. “I’ve had teachers come up to me and say, ‘I’ve got this kid sneaking an extra snack … or hoarding food,’” added Pope.
With No Kid Hungry’s funding, Parker and Pope linked social work and school nutrition to create a weekender bag program, sending kids off every Friday with the meals they need for the weekend. The program has been a success in ensuring kids have food every day. Pope and Parker described the gratitude of kids who “hunt them down” every Friday to get their bag.
“One little boy in particular, he is so excited to get his weekender bag. And when he gets back on Monday, he comes to me, ‘Ms. Denise. I ate everything in my bag,’” Pope said.
This first-grade boy lives with his grandparents, siblings and cousins. Unfortunately and for a variety of reasons, many parents in the county are unable to take care of their kids, so extended family has to step in.
“Granddad has come to me and said how much he appreciates the support because they have all these kids to feed and they're on a limited income,” Pope shared.
The district has also worked hard to ensure kids receive meals on holiday breaks and over the summer. They send kids home with bigger meal bags before a break and deliver food throughout the summer.
In these meal delivery visits, Pope witnessed first hand some of the difficult conditions in which families lived. One time, she visited a household very close to her home. And was received by a group of kids whose family, Pope knew, experienced economic challenges.
“It just touched my heart,” she said. “When they saw us, they ran out to our truck and were so excited to get these meals…It's just things we take for granted, just those little things that we don't realize that we're so fortunate [to have] that some kids don't have.”
After 30 years of service in the district, Pope is retiring by the end of the spring. But she will continue working on these deliveries throughout the summer. “I’m going to volunteer my time,” she shared with a smile.
Parker credits the success of the weekender bag program and other meal deliveries to the collaboration of her team with Pope and everybody in the community. She also talked about the importance of No Kid Hungry’s grant.
“The support and generosity of each and every one of the donors has been what has allowed this program to happen,” she said.
“Your giving just makes such a difference in the life of a child,” Pope added. “Just in every regard. I mean them coming to school, being healthy, happy, being ready to learn. I can't thank you enough for your continued support.”
You too can make a difference in the life of a child. Join us to ensure kids get three meals 365 days of the year.