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.”