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 our “Mighty Molars” program this fall, 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.
In October, the Lexington, KY Herald-Leader newspaper reported that “Half of Eastern Kentucky children have untreated tooth decay,” and the problem is getting worse, not better.
In Eastern Kentucky, 53 percent of the third and sixth graders examined in 2016 had at least one untreated cavity amounting to about 15,100 children in immediate need of a filling.
And barely half of Kentucky children entering a public kindergarten during the 2014-15 school year had a documented dental screening or exam, although that’s supposed to be a requirement for admission.
Kentucky also has the highest proportion of adults under 65 without teeth because they did not learn good dental hygiene and develop good dental habits beginning with when they were children and now they are paying the price.
At Americans Helping Americans® we know it doesn’t have to be that way and that’s why we initiated our Mighty Molars program which is designed to instill good dental practices in the youngest of children so that six decades from now they will still have all of their teeth.
Our first partner in the program will be the Lee Family Resource Center, located in the Beattyville Elementary School, in Lee County, Kentucky. The town of Beattyville has been dubbed by The New York Times as one of the “hardest” places to live in the country, while the county is defined as one of 84 out of 420 counties in Appalachia as “distressed” by Appalachian Regional Commission.
For the vast majority of parents in the U.S., tooth brushes, toothpaste and regular dental checkups are a basic necessity for their children – but they can afford it. For the parents of the thousands of children in Appalachia who have never been to a dentist, rarely if ever brush their teeth and drink sugary sodas on a daily basis, dental care is not a “basic necessity” but an “unaffordable luxury” when rent and utilities have to be paid and food put on the table.
We will be providing hundreds of “Mighty Molar” kits to the Family Resource Center, as well as to the our long-time partner in McDowell County, West Virginia, which operates an after-school program throughout the year and camps when school is out for the summer.
In fact, West Virginia fares no better than Kentucky 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.
Summer means vacation, outdoor time, swimming, extra time at home or maybe camp, notes Americans Helping Americans® partner in Cleveland, Georgia, Ann Fleming of Caring Hands Ministries.
“But for some families in our area summer means a very hard time,” Ann told us.
The Georgia Mountain Food Bank, located in nearby Gainesville, reports that even with summer programs more than 80 percent of the children and teens who get a free breakfast and lunch during the school year do not have that help in the summer and are in need of food help.
And that’s where Americans Helping Americans® and our supporters come in.
“Each year for the past four years Americans Helping Americans® has reached out to these families through Caring Hands Ministries,” said Ann. “This year, Americans Helping Americans® send Caring Hands Ministries boxes of food to share with families who need extra food help and cannot go regularly to the feeding sites.”
More than 180 boxes of non-perishable food items, containing enough food to feed a family of four for a week, have already been provided to families served by Caring Hands Ministries in seven northeast Georgia counties.
Although Americans Helping Americans® has provided frozen sandwiches in the past for families, we have come to learn that some families don’t have refrigeration in their homes and cannot use them, even though their children are hungry.
“I gave them to a neighbor, but my girls were hungry,” reported one mother after her refrigerator broke.
“This year’s boxes will prevent that kind of problem and will also be better for families who may be homeless,” commented Caring Hands President Charles Fleming, adding that since the food is canned and packaged it does not require refrigeration and can be used by a family any time during the month where there is a need.