The show, as they say, must go on and that is certainly the case for the Lunch Box bus program which distributes meals to hungry children in numerous locations rural Tennessee on weekdays while school is closed for the summer.
During these times of the coronavirus pandemic which is ravaging our country, Rev. Sheldon Livesay, director of our partner in the small town of Rogersville, Of One Accord, explained that this year, at least initially, they will have to make some changes to how the program will operate.
In years past, the buses, which stop at several locations such as low-income housing complexes, mobile home parks, and community centers, children would get on the specially-outfitted retired school buses and eat their lunches seated together in a cafeteria-style setting.
However, because of COVID-19, out of an abundance of caution, for at least the first 30 days of the program which begins on June 1, volunteers will be providing the children with bag lunches to eat at home.
“Probably by the first of July safety restrictions from the coronavirus should be relaxed enough to let the children board the bus without fear,” Rev. Livesay told us.
We have been relieved to learn that so far there has only had one active quarantined case in the county.
“We are always anxious for the summer feeding program to start, but a little apprehensive at the same time,” says Rev. Livesay. “Children of low-income families get shuffled around due to summer custody because of divorces.
“Sites are chosen based on numbers of children during the school year, so we pray numbers will be good at each site.
“Of One Accord will be listening closely to possible increased safety guidelines this year and complying with each request from our state and health department. They have been working really hard keeping us informed.”
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans, for the past several years we have been able to provide Of One Accord with funding to help ensure the wheels of the buses keep rolling, and the bellies of hungry children are kept full with nutritious food which includes sandwiches, fresh fruit such as apples and oranges, and wholesome milk.
And to our supporters, Rev. Livesay says:
“We are so appreciative of Americans Helping Americans and the great work you are doing.”
In places like War, West Virginia, Gainesville, Georgia, Cleveland, Tennessee, Cleveland, Georgia and Beattyville, Kentucky there are hundreds of families in need of basic hygiene items including soap, hand sanitizer, dental kits and for those with infants and toddlers, diapers.
In these times of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, these items can literally be lifesavers, but many of these things are unavailable on store shelves right now, and unaffordable for parents who have lost their jobs and are struggling just to put food on the table.
At Americans Helping Americans, we are able to purchase these items in large quantities directly from a wholesaler and ship them to our longtime partners who have requested them for their clients — Big Creek People in Action in War, LAMP Ministries in Gainesville, Ocoee Outreach in Cleveland, TN, Caring Hands Ministries in Cleveland, GA and Cumberland Mountain Outreach in Beattyville.
And thanks to our supporters, we are shipping 5 pallets boxes containing 2,000 diapers, 200 bars of soap, 160 dental kits and 16 32-ounce bottles of hand sanitizers which they will receive by the end of the week. Our hope is to be able to do a similar shipment for nearly a dozen more partners in the coming weeks.
At Americans Helping Americans, our partners throughout Appalachia strive to project what the most pressing needs will be for those most in need in their communities in terms of food, basic needs, education and more, for the year ahead.
But no one could have anticipated the hardships that would be imposed on those families and seniors already struggling to get by in these times of the coronavirus pandemic.
Our grassroots partners have limited means, few staff, and we’re already stretched to their limits in operating their programs, and we understand that even the best-laid plans can go awry.
Within the past week, we have been hearing from many of them as they have been forced to cancel well-established programs for the foreseeable future as other dire needs have emerged.
In these extraordinary times, they must adapt, and we are giving them the flexibility to use their grant funding to adjust the services they offer to put these resources to best use.
For our partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, Cumberland Mountain Outreach, which has for many years operated a popular free summer camp for children and youth, the tough, but necessary, decision to cancel camp this summer had to be made.
Among the benefits of the summer camp program for the older youth is its Teens in a Leadership program in which the youth who had attended the camp for several years as children are put into mentorship roles providing the younger children a positive role model to look up to.
Instead, this year, these promising teens will be contributing to their community through service projects, such as delivering food boxes door-to-door to senior citizens and the disabled this summer.
When a partner inquired as to whether we had much-in-demand face masks, it turned out that we had a few thousand on hand which we could provide them.
While non-perishable food boxes will always be in demand, we are also receiving numerous requests from our partners for soap and other personal hygiene items, as well as disposable diapers. So, we have adjusted our focus as well and will soon be shipping thousands of bars of soap, diapers and other items in the knowledge that sadly, this is likely just the beginning of a long, difficult summer.
None of what we do, and a lot of what our partners do, would be possible without the generosity of Americans Helping Americans whose support we, and our partners and their clients, rely on month after month, year after year.
These are uncharted waters, but with your help, we are helping thousands of our fellow Americans steer their way through the storm and make it the calmer waters we have faith are coming in the months to follow.
Despite the concern about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, people in Appalachia still have to eat — particularly healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits they are able to grow in their own backyard or neighborhood community gardens.
Among our newest partners are Sprouting Hope in Marion, Virginia, and Refresh Appalachia in Huntington, West Virginia, which are soldiering on as best they can even in these most disturbing of times.
And as they are, so are we at Americans Helping Americans in the knowledge that they are counting on us to continue our financial support to assist them in helping those in their communities with establishing their gardens as the growing season is just getting ready to begin.
Sprouting Hope’s mission is to feed the community by growing and sharing healthy produce, with the vision of everyone having access to healthy food.
“With a focus on serving and empowering low-income individuals, we not only give a fish but also teach how to fish by making the program accessible for participants to work and learn in the garden,” states Sprouting Hope on its website.
Program coordinator Mandy Hart reported this week that the organization’s operations have not been affected yet, although they are taking precautions including putting its Homegrowers course online making it available to residents in the community.
“The Homegrown program will continue,” says Mandy. “We just have to get a bit more creative.”
In Huntington, Refresh Appalachia, with support from Americans Helping Americans, is working to create a garden on an unused tract at a community center in a low-income public housing community located in what is known as a “food desert” where the nearest actual grocery store is miles away.
These projects are vital to the health and wellbeing of the residents in the communities, and they MUST go on!