In the summer of 2017, hundreds of hungry children in rural Appalachian Tennessee waiting anxiously each weekday to hear their favorite sound. And no, it wasn’t the ring of the bell of an ice cream truck loaded with sweet treats for sale on a hot summer’s day.
In fact, the sound they were listening for was the sound of the big diesel engine of a school bus, not coming to take them to school, but instead bringing them a filling, nutritious meal, which sadly for many would be their only substantial meal of the day.
Our partner Of One Accord, serves lunch to hundreds of children living in impoverished Hawkins County, among the poorest in the state, and through its “Lunch Box” bus summer feeding program, a total of 12,464 meals were served in 2017.
The Lunch Box bus program is unique! A former “retired” school bus is converted into a mobile cafeteria where children get on the bus and eat their lunch with their siblings and friends, just as they do on a school day. The seats are turned facing each other with a cafeteria table in between allowing seating for 15 or more children to all eat at one time.
In 2006, Of One Accord was the first ministry in the U.S. to put the concept of bringing lunch to children in rural areas where offering a summer meals program at a centralized location is not practical or feasible, according to Executive Director Rev. Sheldon Livesay.
The four Lunch Box buses will serve an average of 320 children daily, with each bus making a total of 32 regular stops each day. This summer it is projected to serve 14,500 meals, from June 4 to July 27.
“The key for success is having to be consistent and to be at each location at exactly the same time each day for children to be able to depend on the bus coming,” he explained.
The need was great for such a program in the area. Hawkins County was among the last counties in the state that did not have a summer feeding program in place for school-age children, according to Rev. Livesay.
He told us that when the school system attempted to offer a summer lunch program, it didn’t work because the vast majority of children did not live within walking distance of the school; in the rural communities it was too far and too costly for parents to drive them to get a free lunch.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program funds the cost of the food, and we help to cover the cost of program expenses needed to run the operation. “Through the amazing help of Americans Helping Americans®, we were not only able to place two more buses on the road, but they are being sustained as a program through the support of Americans Helping Americans® raising the number of children served from 8,500 to 14,500,” Rev. Livesay said.
However, he added, “The sad note is we have children who board the bus who attest this is the first meal they have had since the day before, and we have even heard on a Monday, this was a child’s first meal since the Friday before.”
We know there are hundreds of thousands of kids in Appalachia who are bright and eager to learn. But too often they become discouraged by parents, many who are high school dropouts themselves and never earned a GED, who don’t encourage them to work hard and succeed in the classroom.They don’t take the time to read to their children at a young age, and never help them with their homework even if they could. And they don’t commend their children for bringing home good grades…and don’t admonish them to try harder when they bring home D’s and F’s on their report card.In the classroom, with as many as 30 or more other classmates, no matter how dedicated their teacher is, it’s impossible for students who are struggling to get the individualized attention they need to understand what’s in their textbooks and on the chalkboard.That’s where we come in.
Working with our partners who offer afterschool programs, such as Big Creek People in Action in McDowell County, West Virginia, the lives of many children are transformed where they receive the one-on-one tutoring they need to help them keep up with their classmates.On elementary school girl, Brittany, told us how she was doing well in all her classes, except math – and how to divide fractions (something that likely challenges many adults as well).However, when she informed her tutor at BCPIA it was a concept she just couldn’t comprehend, she received the individualized attention she needed and within a couple of hours she had mastered it and was solving problems with ease.
“Now I fly right through it,” Brittany told us.
Who knows what would’ve happened if she had fallen behind in school, and then in class after class, grade after grade, year after year she continued to fall further and further behind until she simply gave up, becoming a teenage high school dropout with no hope for anything better than a minimum wage job at best in her future.But thanks to our supporters, Brittany, who is now in high school, and many others just like her received the encouragement they need to not give up and drop out and are told “Good job!” when they proudly show off their report cards with all A’s.We had the opportunity to meet Brittany a few years ago during a visit to BCPIA who told us about her 11-hour days – leaving home at 8 a.m. to catch the school bus, in class until around 4 p.m. when she would go to the BCPIA afterschool program and not getting home until about 7 p.m., making for a very long day for her and many others just like her.“Yeah, but it’s amazing,” she commented.
She also told us how much she enjoys the afterschool program at BCPIA where she and her classmates not only receive tutoring, snacks and a hot meal and even have fun doing their homework together.
This past fall we were thrilled to hear from BCPIA co-executive director Marsha Timpson how well Brittany and her younger brother David are doing. Marsha was hosting a baby shower for Mary, one of the women who works in the afterschool program, “when I overheard a comment that went straight to my heart.” Mary had invited Brittany to come to the baby shower, and as she was handing the presents to her a lady made a comment to Brittany about how helpful she was.“Brittany thanked them and went on to say how much she loved Mary AND Big Creek People in Action,” Marsha said. “She said both her and her brother loved it here and all of the people here.“The lady asked her why she loved it so much and Brittany became very quiet for a moment (very unusual occurrence – ha!) and finally answered and said, ‘I would have to say because we were always made to feel very welcome here.’”
Marsha said she thought about Brittany’s answer that night and it made her heart warm.“How wonderful that we do that and how wonderful that those children feel that way,” she said. “I cannot think of a better thing we could do for those children.
“Feeding them is fantastic, listening to them is fantastic, helping them with their homework is fantastic – but making them feel welcome while doing those things is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!!!!!!“The feeling of WELCOME encompasses so many things: you feel safe, you feel comfortable, you feel liked and most of all – you feel wanted,” Marsha added. “I hope we make every single one of those young’uns feel that way because they are super special to us.”
These children are also “super special” to us as well and thanks to our supporters we are proud to be a partner instilling a love of education to all the young children who are fortunate enough to be able to attend BCPIA’s afterschool program yearning to learn and succeed in school, and in life.
Roy, his wife, and their two adult sons are all disabled for one reason or another.
Living together in the small West Virginia community of Cucumber (pop. 94, and the only community in the U.S. with this name), Roy came to Americans Helping Americans® partner serving McDowell County, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA), requesting help for their bathroom.
“They sure needed it,” BCPIA co-executive director Marsha Timpson told us. “I don’t think I have ever encountered a bathtub in this condition. They have sulfur water and it is bad, but geez!
In March, volunteer college students from the Universities of Richmond and Notre Dame came in and tore out and replaced the flooring, replaced the ceiling and walls and installed a new tub along with new fixtures and plumbing as well.
When the job was completed, Marsha provided with the family with a supply of heavy-duty tub and shower cleanser designed to remove stubborn stains and mineral deposits and urged the family to use it at least once or twice a week.
“Hopefully, they will,” she commented.