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.
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.
At Americans Helping Americans® we understand the great need for preventative dental care for children, beginning when they are able to hold a toothbrush and brush their teeth themselves.
In Appalachia, that’s too often not the case.
Now, we are proud to announce that we will be implementing a ‘Smiles’ program, providing children and youth with dental kits, complete with toothbrushes, a three-month supply of toothpaste and dental floss picks to thousands of children throughout Appalachia in the coming year.
The statistics regarding oral health in Appalachia are staggering: in Kentucky, almost half of children ages 2 to 4 years old already have untreated cavities caused by drinking large quantities of sugary soft drinks and no preventative dental care.
Kentucky also has the highest proportion of adults under 65 without teeth.
West Virginia fares no better as having the highest proportion of adults over 65 without teeth, as well having one of the lowest percentages of adults who visit a dentist at least once a year.
And other statistics are just as disturbing, with two-thirds of children having cavities by age 8, and by the same age, only 37 percent have received protective sealants. In addition, a third- of 15-year-olds have untreated decay.
For years, we have having been providing assistance to senior citizens who have already lost their teeth by working with our partners in Appalachia and compassionate dentists who charge deeply discounted prices for dentures.
Now we are pleased that we be able to offer preventative care for the children of Appalachia in our mission to help them keep their teeth for their lifetime by building a sound foundation of tooth care today.
Spring is in the Air: But Summer Camps Are Approaching Fast
It’s only April and flowers are just beginning to bloom and the first of the year’s leaves are appearing in the trees.
And it won’t be long before summer’s here, schools out and millions of American children will be spending carefree days playing in their yards, swimming in pools, going on family vacations and going to summer camp.
But for thousands of children in places such as War, West Virginia, Beattyville, Kentucky, Johnson City, Tennessee, and Cleveland and Gainesville, Georgia, the days are anything but carefree.
When school is out, these children aren’t guaranteed a nutritious breakfast and lunch like they get at school – they’re lucky if there’s some peanut butter, jelly and a loaf of bread in the house. The days can be filled with hunger and boredom.
But in these communities, thanks to supporters of Americans Helping Americans® there will hundreds of children who will be able to spend a week at a summer camp where they be sure of getting nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day, participate in some educational activities so they don’t forget in the summer what they learned in school – but, perhaps most importantly – simply have fun being a kid with, for a time at least, without a worry in the world.
Big Creek People in Action “Super WHY” Literacy Camps
In War, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA) operates “Super WHY” literacy camps co-sponsored with the West Virginia Public Broadcasting System based on the educational PBS kids’ show “Super WHY”. In 2015, Americans Helping Americans® financially supported four one-week camps in four different communities in McDowell County, serving a total of 57 different children, according to BCPIA co-executive director Marsha Timpson.
For those unfamiliar with the TV program, each character in the show has their own special reading powers: Alpha Pig has alphabet power; Princess Presto has spelling power; Wonder Red has word power; and Super Why has the power to read – putting together all the other powers to create sentences.
At the camps, children watch one episode daily with each day focusing on a specific “Super Reader” and their superpower. Activities, crafts and fun learning games are done that day that each relate to the character of the day.
“On Thursday, toward the end of the camp, I would let each child take a turn telling the group who their favorite super reader was and pick one favorite activity or game from the whole week of activities,” said Marsha. “On Friday, after watching the episode, the children chose which super reader they would transform into and the activities, crafts and games varied because they were chosen by the children from their favorites of that week’s camp.”
And then, the highlight of many of the camp, “One of the four characters also makes an appearance on Fridays.”
Among the 57 children who attended BCPIA’s) four summer reading and literacy camps last summer, a four year-old little boy named R.J. stands out.
R.J. was among the children who attended the first week of camp.
“He was so excited and had such a thirst for knowledge that you can’t help but notice how eager he is to learn,” said Marsha. “His participation was outstanding on every activity and his mom said he was always rushing her out the door to make sure he was not going to be late and miss anything going on.”
R.J. is a bright young man who knew most of his alphabet letters, but was so excited to be learning the sounds that went with each of the ten specific letters they worked on that week, said Marsha.
“His mother told me how he would go home every day and practice the sounds and activities we had done that day and explain everything to the family in detail,” she said.
On the last day of camp, R.J. heard Marsha tell his mom the locations of the three camps to follow to which “with a huge smile on his face, and in his eyes, he informed his mother that he would be attending all of the reading camps until they were finished for the year.”
She told him that the others were too far away, but assured him that he would be able to come back next year.
“He let her know that he REALLY wanted to go, no matter how far they to go to get there,” Marsha said.
But, it was not to be. R.J. understood that if his mother had taken him to the other camps, she would not have been able to make it to work on time.
“Now, every time I see R.J. out at the grocery store or convenience store where his mom works, he is sure to ask me I am still sure that we will have a Super Why camp next year,” Marsha said. “Then he tells me how sorry he is that he did not make it to the other three camps of this year.
“Then I get a big ‘Bear Hug’ and he tells me he can’t wait until camp next year.”
Beattyville, Kentucky has the dubious distinction of being the poorest “white” town in the United States, according to a recent report in The Guardian newspaper.
Of communities of more than 1,000 people, Beattyville is among the four lowest income towns in the country, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of 2008-2012, the latest statistics available.
Beattyville’s median household income is just $12,361, placing it as the third lowest income town in the US, according to the Census Bureau survey.
To help address the needs of impoverished children in this hard-hit community, described by The New York Times as one of the “hardest” places to live in America, Americans Helping Americans® has been partnering with the Lee County Family Resource Center to provide shoes to children who show up at the Beattyville Elementary School with worn out shoes many sizes too big, or wearing flip flops in the dead of winter.
This year, Americans Helping Americans® is planning to take on another project in partnership with the Family Resource Center – ensuring children don’t go hungry over the weekend during the school year.
Family Resource Center director Sherry Lanham explained that within the past two years, two of the community’s largest employers – a factory and a prison – have closed resulting in hundreds of people being put out of work, in addition to the high unemployment rate which had already existed before the closings.
More than 80 percent of the children at the school qualify for free lunch, with another 10 percent qualifying for reduced-price lunch, according to Lanham.
“Many of our children come to school hungry in the mornings and on Monday several ask for extra food,” she said.
Through its weekend food program, the Family Resource Center serves between 50 and 75 children depending on need, which varies as families move in and out of the country.
Each Friday afternoon, sacks are filled with items that students can open themselves, are non-perishable and don’t require cooking such as Pop Tarts, Vienna sausages, chips, cereal bars, graham crackers, cereal bowls, Rice Krispies treats, cheese and crackers, snack cakes, Jell-O cups and other items.
In addition, Lanham said they also try to send home left over cereal, milk, juice, etc., from the school lunchroom.
“If the children do not get the food items, they will have limited food for the weekend or holiday breaks,” Lanham said. “Also, during bad weather and snow days students need extra food.
“The end of the month is especially hard because families do not have food stamps left and food runs out,” she added.
Children who are hungry obviously cannot do well in school.
“If children do not have enough food, their brains cannot function and they cannot learn,” Lanham said. “Also, if they are hungry they look for a way to relieve that including stealing and lying to get the food they need.
“Children who are hungry cannot learn in class and are often disruptive to the entire school,” she commented.
Lanham noted that children who are hungry either at school or at home are not worried about homework or school work.
“They are worried about their next meal and everything else is unimportant.”
Lanham said she frequently has children coming to her Friday morning and asking “Do I get food this weekend?”
Children are also anxious to see how much food is in their bag so they can prepare it for the weekend.
“We have children who say they put their food under the bed and share it with siblings and make it last the entire weekend,” she said. “We had one small boy who would try and save part of his school lunch to take home to his sister. We gave him extra food for his sister and he was very happy.”
She also has children who are leaving elementary school to attend middle school expressing concern about what will happen to them and wondering if they will still get food to take home for the weekend.
The short term goal of the weekend food program is to get food in the hands of children in need for that weekend.
“The long term goal is to show the families that we care and want to help and encourage them to come to us for help,” she said. “We also want to hook them up with any resources we can find for food.
“The primary and long term goal is to make sure children are not HUNGRY!”