Is your church or non-profit organization looking for a way to help the children in your community? Well, Reg Griffin, chief communications officer for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning’s Bright from the Start program, says he has just the ministry for you.
“You know, most people want to do something to help their community. They just don’t know what,” he says. “Well, this is a great opportunity to get involved.”
He’s talking about Bright from the Start’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which partners with local organizations to get meals to children during the summer break. This year, the program has targeted Haralson County, along with counties such as Cherokee and Heard, to focus on. They look for schools with a high percentage of students living at or below the poverty line to help determine which schools they will reach out to each year. Of course, they also use other criteria.
“We have identified 23 targeted counties who did not have summer food sites last year,” said SFSP Program Manager Falita Flowers. “And Haralson County is one of those counties.
According to Flowers, based on preliminary data, roughly 2,400 children in Haralson County will qualify for meals during the summer months.
“Given the potential number of kids who qualify, we’re maybe reaching 15 percent of that population – that’s the challenge,” said DECAL’s Director of Nutritional Services Lou Brienza.
Which is why Bright from the Start (BFTS) targets specific counties each year to reach out to and ask community leaders to step up and become sponsors of a meal site.
The SFSP partners with the Georgia Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to bring nutritional meals to area children with the help of local city and county governments, school systems, churches and non-profit community-based groups, who are known as “sponsors.” Sponsors provide the up-front cost of operating a meal site. They are then reimbursed with USDA funds. SFSP provides training and support for volunteers and helps sponsors every step along the way in their effort to aid area children.
“Our folks are very hands-on,” Griffin says. “A task like this may look daunting, but the team does two days of training, taking sponsors through the process, covering all the questions. And we’re always just a phone call away.”
Of course, some groups may already be more prepared than they realize.
“Some groups may already do community work. Some folks may already have some mobility or mobile feeding operations, which would be really advantageous in a rural community [like Haralson County],” Brienza said.
Organizations who already have structures like these in place, Brienza said, have a jump start on becoming a sponsor and operating a food site. And an added bonus to working with BFTS is that the funds they reimburse to area sponsors can be used for costs incurred during any part of the site’s operation, including labor and administrative costs, rather than solely on the cost of food.
“Reimbursements can be used toward any cost related to the cost of distributing the meals: the cost of the food, administrative fees, supplies, even the cost of renting a kitchen,” Flowers said.
The only guidelines sponsors must follow, besides taking a talley of each meal they serve, is they must meet USDA standards for nutrition. This means a meal must have two vegetables or fruits, one protein, one grain, and milk. Additionally, meals cannot be delivered door-to-door. A mobile food site can be set up, but parents have to bring their children to the meal site itself.
Overall, Griffin says it’s an easy program to participate in, and it’s for a good cause. This past summer, DECAL served 3.5 million meals in the state of Georgia and totaled 6.7 million for the year. However, their are still children out there in need.
“There are children in need of the same nutrition in the summer that they receive during the school year,” Flowers said, “so it’s very important for us to partner with local groups to help us reach those children.”
To learn more about how your group, school system or government agency can participate in the Summer Food Service Program, call Christy McCray at 404-651-7191. Or call toll free at 855-550-7377, or email email@example.com.