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.”
Leslie joined the L.A.M.P program because she was failing school.
“Nobody cared, so why should I” she questioned.
But at L.A.M.P she did find people who cared- plenty of them.
With that realization, her life would change forever.
I have a mentor who helps me and expects to do good,” she says.
“She explains stuff – school stuff, but life stuff too.”
“I never knew I was worth anything before,” she adds.
Without strong positive intervention, a girl like Leslie has more than a 70 percent chance of dropping out of school and being a homeless unwed mother who spends time in jail or prison.
Your help is changing Leslie’s life and through her friends and siblings.
And Leslie can attest to that.
Summer time comes and students get a break to turn back into kids and explore their world around them. We remember when we were children, spending a few weeks at summer camp, making new friends, staying active, continue learning in a nontraditional classroom, one that is outside with life being the teacher.
Here are some of our summer days, and some of those summer days for the children of Appalachia that you help to create.
Many children in Appalachia don’t have summers filled with carefree bike riding or playing with their friends. It’s usually a time of boredom, isolation, and loneliness.
In McDowell County, West Virginia our partner, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA), run free literacy and math camps throughout the summer.
Fun activities for children are important, but children lose some of what they learned in school during the summer break.
For example, Sarah attended a BCPIA summer literacy camp last year. According to Rosy Moore, a summer camp assistant, when Sarah arrived the Monday first day of camp, she hardly knew any of the alphabets. By the end of the week, Sarah knew all the letters, make the sounds, and sing the songs with the letters.
We are proud to be a part of Sarah’s education, and hundreds of others like her by being able to support summer camp programs like BCPIA’s literacy camp.
You helped make it possible for Sarah to learn her ABCs and even before her first day of school develops what will become a life-long love of learning.
“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 …