Valdosta Daily Times

December 11, 2011

‘Hungry at Home’

In Georgia, 700,000 children are at risk of being hungry ... and 70 are at Lake Park Elementary

Elizabeth Butler
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The father of four who came to a parent-teacher conference at Lake Park Elementary had just lost his job. When Principal Burt Copeland asked him if he would be interested in a school program which would provide food for his children on the weekends, the grateful dad burst into tears.

Angie Hendley, gifted teacher, and Teresa Parkerson, academic coach, at Lake Park Elementary, co-founded the “Hungry at Home” project which provides food on the weekends for 70 at-risk children — one out of every 10 children enrolled at the school.

Back packs, donated by Walmart, are filled with food items purchased through grants from the Valdosta Junior Service League and LEIF Foundation and from donations. The students take the back packs home on Friday and return them each Monday. The children remain anonymous.

The project was created after a little boy at the school last year complained each Monday that his stomach hurt. Simply put, he was hungry, the teachers learned.

School officials also discovered students taking food home from the lunchroom, to eat later, Hendley said.

“Due to the recent decline in the economy, more of our families are finding they are unemployed and struggling to meet the basic needs of their families,” Parkerson said. “Gov. Nathan Deal stated in a recent article in The Valdosta Daily Times that more than 700,000 in the state of Georgia are at risk of being hungry.”

The academic coach said hungry children have “increased tardiness, absences, behavioral problems and diminished learning capacity.

“All of these factors lead to lower test scores. Some children’s only meals are those they receive at school,” Parkerson said. “This program wants to bridge the gap between home and school and provide nutritious meals over the weekend for our children who are at risk of being hungry.”

“It takes a village raise a child,” and the village has come together to feed the students.

“The generosity of people is overwhelming,” Hendley said. “We have somebody bringing in something every day or asking how they can volunteer.”

VJSL not only provided one of the grants to purchase the food, but its members continue helping by donating food themselves. In addition to the back packs, Walmart donated $1,000 to feed the children.

Other contributors include Judy and Steve Trexler, New Life Community Church, PCA, Crosspointe Life Group, parents and teachers at Lake Park Elementary, Smitty’s Package Store, and Commercial Cleaning.

The SLAW Ladies from Dasher Church of Christ (“just like little elves working for us”) volunteer their time each Thursday to place the food in the back packs: two breakfast items and four lunch/dinner items, and four snacks. At the beginning of each month, a jar of peanut butter is sent home with the children. The food pantry, where the donated and purchased food is kept, is a former modular classroom. Some students go home with more than one back pack.

When the project began five weeks ago, a little boy who received the back pack with food said, “But I have a sister at home.”

He was assured there would be food for his sister as well.

“We feed every child in the family,” Hendley said.

A letter was sent home with the students earlier not only to get permission for them to participate in the program, but also to find out how many siblings are in the family and if any of the children have food allergies. (The program feeds their siblings who attend Lowndes Middle and High schools and even feeds a 75-year-old grandfather in one of the homes.)

“It’s like Christmas to them,” Hendley said of the students’ reactions to the back packs and the food they carry.

With the success of the project at Lake Park, Hendley and Parkerson are hoping to expand it to other schools in the Lowndes County School System and  to other school systems in the area.

“The program has the potential to affect hundreds and even thousands of children in the community,” Parkerson said.

“We have got to get back to those grassroots ways of taking care of our families and neighbors,” Hendley added. “We cannot rely on government programs to always meet the needs of families.

“There are different circumstances that surround these families’ needs for assistance, and some may not qualify for government programs.

“It’s time for people to take care of each other.”

Those who want to help may contact Parkerson at tparkerson@lowndes.k12.ga.us or Hendley at ahendley@lowndes.k12.ga.us or by calling 559-5153, Ext. 16. (See the accompanying box on this page for food donation suggestions.)