Imagine Thanksgiving with no food. With nothing special to give your kids or grandkids on a day when millions celebrate with beautiful meals. That is the reality for so many children and families in Appalachia. But it doesn’t have to be this way.Thanks to our supporters, in 2016, we were able to distribute 31,534 pounds of frozen turkey to our partners in Appalachia. That means that thousands of children and adults, who would have otherwise gone without, were able to enjoy a festive meal.
How you can help
A Turkey from you means so much more than a meal. A turkey on Thanksgiving means family, community, shared good times, and one evening of knowing that the family can gather and enjoy a full, wholesome, traditional meal without any worries – even if for just one day. Your generous support will ensure that families won’t have to make a choice – buy groceries for a week, or bust their budget for a once-a-year Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving will be here before you know it, and these families need you!
“Thank you for helping make this possible,” says Rev. Sheldon Livesay, executive director of the grassroots organization Of One Accord which operates the buses with support from Americans Helping Americans®. “We’re providing close to 300 to 400 meals per day.”
It’s mid-April and across the country temperatures are rising. Millions of children are counting the weeks and days left until the last day of school and fun-filled weeks of playing outside, swimming pools and vacations to the beach, or maybe even Disney World . But for many children in Appalachia, they are dreading the last day of school and filled with uncertainty, unsure of when , or even if, their next meal is coming. When school is in session these low-income children, literally living in poverty way below the federal poverty level, are guaranteed a nutritious breakfast and lunch on school days.However, when school is out there is no such guarantee. In many cases, their parents are doing the best they can to feed their children, but tragically in other cases, they simply don’t care.Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is that these children go hungry for days, weeks, on end.
In urban and suburban areas, the federal government supports the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) which provides free lunches to children in schools and community centers.But in rural areas, such as Appalachian east Tennessee, children live miles and miles away from their school, and even if there was a SFSP operating, they couldn’t get there anyway.
So what’s the solution?
Americans Helping Americans® partnered with Sheldon Livesay, Of One Accord‘s executive director, decided that if the children can’t get to the food, they’ll bring the food to the children.
The program, known as the Lunch Box bus – former school buses converted into mobile cafeterias – bring lunch to hundreds of children each weekday while school is out for the summer.
What began with a single bus has grown to a fleet of four which last year delivered a total of 14,459 meals to hungry children in Hawkins County during the months of June and July, up from 11,732 in 2015.
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, we are able to provide cash grant funding for expenses including fuel, insurance and drivers’ salaries to help keep the wheels on the Lunch Box buses rolling all summer long.
Thursday, May 25, is the last day of school for Hawkins County school students and on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, the Lunch Box buses will begin their daily journey providing nutritious meals to hundreds of children living in rural communities scattered throughout the county.
Why Does Appalachia Need the Lunch Box Bus Program? Find out why here …
The “digital divide” is the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” – those children who have computers and broadband access at home, and those who do not. Computers and broadband internet access at home and is a matter of concern of educators who more and more are requiring students have internet access to be able to do their homework, and parents who simply cannot afford it.
It’s also a concern to us here at Americans Helping Americans®.
To remedy that situation in Beattyville, Kentucky Americans HelpingAmericans® has launched a pilot project in partnership with Beattyville Elementary School and AT&T to help bridge the digital divide which exists in the community.
Over the Christmas holiday, and in many cases on Christmas day, about two dozen students unwrapped a big box containing a brand-new HP 20 All-in-One PC. The school system is licensed to install grade appropriate educational software to compliment what is taught in the classroom and AT&T has agreed to provide high-speed internet for less than $20 per month based on the family’s income.
Sherry Lanham, director of the Lee County Family Resource Center located in the school, oversees the program and selected only responsible parents who are available to monitor their children when they are using the computer at home.
For these fortunate two dozen children and their parents who could never afford to purchase a computer on their own, no matter how basic or relatively inexpensive, it was a Christmas they will never forget.
Among them was Crystal, an honor roll student whose parents both work and try to provide for her. The are supportive of her attending every school event and give back to their community through volunteer work, but are often overlooked because they never ask for anything.
“The parents and children were both in shock and disbelief that they were receiving such a gift,” reported Sherry.
Sisters Helen and Anna haven’t had it easy since their father was killed while serving in the armed forces in Iraq and their mother lost her job of 10 years after the company she was working for closed its doors.
“Christmas was a very difficult time,” commented Sherry, but the new computer brought a bit of joy into their life. “The girls loved the computer and as you can see by their smiles they are very happy.”
And then there’s Taylor, an honor roll student who became very close to his grandfather after his father left him and his mother when he was only a baby. However, despite being an excellent student and always remains positive, the unexpected sudden death of his grandfather hit him very hard.
“His one wish on his Christmas list was a computer,” said Sherry. “So when the mom told me about this I made sure he received one. His mom said this gift made their Christmas.”
Bridging the digital divide and providing enhanced educational opportunities for bright children eager to learn was only made possible through the compassion and generosity of people like you – the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®. The fact that it also granted Christmas wishes is icing on the cake.
In 2016, 1,371 individuals in Georgia and Kentucky benefited from Americans Helping Americans® emergency utility assistance program.
Not only did it mean hundreds of senior citizens and families with young children down on their luck were able to stay warm in their home on the coldest days of winter without have to choose whether to pay their electric bill or put food on the table, it also meant that they would be able to continue to live in their homes.
What we have learned working with our partners over the years is that our emergency utility assistance program actually prevents homelessness.
They have told us of the critical importance of the program by explaining that even if the rent is paid in full, landlords will evict tenants who have their utilities cut off fearing that pipes on their properties could freeze and burst in unheated apartments, as well as the belief that if they could not pay their electric bill that month, they may not be able to pay their rent the next.
We have even also been informed that parents could lose temporary custody of their children as state human services agencies will not allow children to remain in a home without utilities, and will take them and put them in foster care until the situation is remedied.
For most Americans, the thought of losing their home, or worse, their children, because of an unpaid electric bill – frequently less than $100 – is unimaginable.
But it happens.
However, thanks to people like you, hundreds last year and thousands more over the past decade not only have been able to keep warm in winter, but had those fears eliminated as well.
Such is the case with Ellen.
For example last winter we heard Ellen’s tale of woe when Joe, her four-legged companion and best friend, got sick and she chose to take her dog to the vet and then couldn’t pay her power bill.
But thanks to emergency utility grant assistance provided by Americans Helping Americans® to our partner in Gainesville, Georgia, Caring Hands Ministries, she and her dog were saved from certain eviction.
Ellen knows what would’ve happened if she could not come up with the $37 to pay her bill in full.
“They’d put me out and stick me in a home someplace with my diabetes and my breathing,” she told us. “I know what would happen to Joe too – a sick old dog, they’d kill him. He would never be adopted.
“But me and Joe we need each other,” Ellen added. “He wakes me up mornings and he is the reason I do get up.
“You saved two lives when you helped me with that power bill,” she said. “Somebody does care ‘bout an old woman and her dog.”
And Ellen, and her best friend, Joe, are just one example of how people like you who support Americans Helping Americans® makes a difference in the lives of many less fortunate every single day.
2016 has been a year to remember! Because of friends like you, so many smiled with joy.
In West Virginia, 412 veterans received food support; 85 children attended a summer enrichment camp; 34 children attended an afterschool program where they received one-on-one tutoring; and more.
In Georgia, 217 were warmed with our utility assistance program; 414 benefited from a food bank support program; 47 youth learned at a summer enrichment camp; and more.
In Tennessee, 14,459 meals were delivered to hungry children living in rural areas while school was out for the summer; 2,240 individuals benefited from food bank support and the “Neighborly Meals” program for the elderly and disabled, and more.
In Kentucky, 456 children received new pairs of shoes through our Barefeet Program; 23 youth participated in a Youth Leadership Training Program, and more.
Throughout Appalachia, 15,714 children and adults benefited from in-kind donations including backpacks filled with school supplies, winter coats and accessories, blankets, and holiday and summer food distributions.
Watch the video to see all this, and more, that you have helped make possible.