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“Kids Helping Kids” 

 

The Helping Hands Ending Hunger Program was developed with the help of student leaders at Trion City Schools to “pay it forward” and help fellow students who may not have enough food to eat over the weekends.  In Georgia, the stark fact is 1 out of 4 children are food insecure and do not know where their next meal is coming from. Schools in Georgia report significant percentages of students who receive free or reduced meals because of their families’ income levels. However, nearly 1/3 of the food insecure children in Georgia come from families now characterized as the “working poor” who do not qualify for any state or federal assistance programs because of income levels.

 

In our communities, teachers routinely report that some students arrive at school on Mondays, hungry, confirming that these students had not eaten any substantial food since school lunch the Friday before.  While caring teachers and parents make food baskets for these students and their families, these efforts are not enough to solve the problem. Malnourished students are simply unable to focus, apply themselves, learn and prosper in school to their fullest capabilities.

 

Helping Hands Ending Hunger is a simple concept:  kids giving a helping hand to other kids. In a nutshell, our Program is NOT just another food bank or backpack program. We operate in the schools and our Program is primarily run by students. It involves an established, food-safe plan and procedure for collecting food products, including prepackaged and unopened crackers, cookies, breakfast bars, cereal, cheese sticks, yogurt, fruit and drink items, like milk and juice, which are untouched and uneaten during school breakfasts and lunches.   Helping Hands volunteers inspect, preserve, and then distribute the collected food items on a weekly basis, on Fridays, to those students and their families who want or need nutritious food to eat. Students also weigh collected food to calculate the Co2 emissions reduced by not throwing these food items in the trash, making it a sustainable, educational school-wide endeavor.

 

Additionally, our model is based on a simple formula for sustainability.  Distinguishing it from other common, more expensive backpack food programs, the Program facilitates public and private collaborations to get substantial, nutritious food into the hands of school children and their families who participate on a weekly basis. For example, the Northwest Georgia Department of Community Supervision has developed a unique food collection initiative called “Food for Community Service” that regularly donates food to Helping Hands Ending Hunger. Once a year, participating Helping Hands schools conduct a “Souper Bowl” canned food drive to benefit children participating in the Program. Other individuals, businesses (i.e., Liberty Tax Service, Woodmen of the World and Advance Rehab and Physical Therapy), churches and church groups (i.e., North Georgia United Methodist Housing and Homeless Council) and charitable foundations (i.e., Arby’s Foundation, No. Ga. Electric Membership Foundation, and Tillotson-Menlo Charitable Foundation) have contributed funding and food.

 

Further, responsible for a region in Northwest Georgia and Tennessee, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank has stepped up to become a primary partner, providing non-perishable, shelf-sustainable food, on a weekly basis, and fresh produce and bakery items, monthly, to Program participants. And, most recently, the Chattooga County Community Resource Center partnered to donate to all Chattooga County Helping Hands participants GNAP bags filled with 20-25lbs of food each month.  Efforts to provide food over the summer to Program participants also are in the works. These donation programs, and others, are easily translatable to any community to which the Helping Hands Ending Hunger Program expands. Accordingly, collaborative efforts are underway to try to establish food donation programs in all schools undertaking the Program. Our vision is that ultimately, families, businesses and charitable organizations connected with the areas in which Helping Hands students live will assume the responsibility to solve the issue of childhood hunger in their own communities.

 

Because we have developed an Operational Plan that not only follows food-safe rules but also works around the Food Service Rules applicable to school cafeterias, we have received endorsement from Galen Baxter, the Director of the Georgia Dept. of Public Health, Food Services Division, as well as Dr. Ellen Steinberg, Food Safety Specialist, School Nutrition Division, Georgia Dept. of Education.  We are now in a unique position among organizations that feed the needy because these endorsements pave the way for our Program (not any others) to expand into every school district that has a need. And, that need exists!

 

Current expansion efforts are focused on all school systems in Georgia. All six schools In Chattooga County are Helping Hands Chapters. We piloted our Program in two Walker County schools last school year as well:  Cherokee Ridge Elementary and Gilbert Elementary. Presently, we have obtained grant funding to start two more school Chapters in Walker County and one school Chapter in Catoosa County and two school Chapters in Rome City Schools (Floyd County) at the beginning of the 2018/2019 school year.  We are also in discussions with the Atlanta Community Food Bank for extra food for four new school Chapters in the greater metro Atlanta

 

area (Clayton Co.) which will also pilot the Helping Hands Program in their schools at the beginning of the upcoming school year.  Other schools in Dougherty County have contacted us to also pilot the program the beginning of this school year. We are convinced other counties in Georgia and then other states soon will follow.

 

The success of our Program is marked. During the 2017/2018 school year, we served over 1415 individuals in 8 schools with weekly food distributions (food bags filled with approximately 30 lbs. of food). We have distributed over 135,800 lbs. (67.5 tons) of substantive, nutritious food to our children and their families, reducing CO2 emissions by over 85,000 lbs. That translates to almost 163,000 meals served in just part of the school year.

 

Importantly, we are seeing immediate results with the children who are participating. Now able to focus on school, Helping Hands students are graduating with honors, receiving merit awards, and excelling in sports. What is more, student volunteers are learning valuable life- long lessons of empathy, compassion and the importance of giving back to their community. Even the students and their families who are receiving the food are stepping up to contribute.

 

While we have the desire and ability to expand, we cannot continue to help the neediest children in our communities alone. Our Program depends on funding to help purchase needed supplies, supplement food for Program participants, and cover operational costs associated with running such a state-wide program.  With its ever-growing network of community ambassadors, Helping Hands can give nutritious, substantive food to a needy child and his or her family for only $80 per year. That is less than the cost of a family of four meal at Olive Garden, or similar restaurant. Said another way, the cost breaks down to only $2 a week per family, or less than one meal at McDonald’s.

 

All in all, we believe the amount of funding required to feed the neediest children and their families in our communities is minimal relative to the enormous benefit conferred. Our Program presents a win/win for all who chose to become involved. We personally find it not only rewarding but also exciting that our small Northwest Georgia community has figured out a solution to childhood hunger that should and can be a model state wide!

 

Ultimately, helping students to get needed, nutritious food will thereby help them to be able to apply themselves, learn and prosper in school to their fullest capacities. It will also help make the Earth a greener place to live because edible food products will no longer be wasted.  In the end, our collective community will benefit.

 

Learn more at www.helpinghandsendinghunger.org. Helping Hands Ending Hunger INC. is a 501c3 organization and donations are tax deductible.

 

We hope we can count on you for your support!

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