Feed-A-Kid program needs soar during recession; funds nearly depleted

Published 1:37 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The program began during second semester last school year with weekend food supplies for 73 children, and quickly grew after a few weeks to provide food during non-school times for 90 students.

When this school year began in August, there were 95 children being helped, but because of the economy, local layoffs and the high unemployment rate in Polk County, the number of children has greatly increased. The Feed-A-Kid program is now providing food to 170 children and the number seems to grow each week, say program organizers.

The children who participate in the program are from families who qualify for the federal free/reduced meal program and other children who have been identified by teachers, counselors and principals as &dquo; nutritionally at risk.&dquo;

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For many students in the program, the meals provided at school are their primary source of food, say program organizers. Following lunch at school on Friday, they may not have a substantial meal again until breakfast at school on Monday. School officials say that results in both nutritional and learning deficiencies, noting how hard it is for students to focus on school work when they are hungry.

The Feed-A-Kid BackPack Program helps to fill the gap when children may not have access to other food resources during the weekends and school breaks.

It began last year through a cooperative effort initiated by Thermal Belt Outreach, Columbus Presbyterian Church, Polk County Cooperative Extension and Polk County Schools. Western North Carolina Presbytery Nickel-A-Meal Mission awarded a $5,700 grant to serve as seed money for the pilot program. Grants from other organizations and contributions from many individual donors helped continue the program.

Contributing organizations that helped fully fund it for the first semester of operation were: MANNA Abundance, Kiwanis Club of Tryon, Timken employees, Silver Creek Baptist Church, Green Creek Baptist Church, and UMW of Columbus United Methodist Church.

Each week, volunteers pack, deliver and distribute packages filled with enough non-perishable food to last for the weekend. Because the need is so great, Outreach plans to continue the program throughout the year, including summer weekends, as well.

We live in a tight knit community, but often we do not know of the needs that exist,&dquo; said Outreach in a press release. &dquo;We have children that are hungry and they are at the mercy of this recession. Many families are doing all they can and come to Outreach for assistance for help with essential needs, but growing children need stable nutrition to learn and thrive.

&dquo;These kids are a valuable resource and the goal is to help them grow into prosperous adults and to slow the cycle of poverty and need that they experience today.&dquo;

Each week, approximately $6.76 is spent per child to provide them food for the weekend. Outreach says it is doing everything it can to curb the cost of the food, but as the number of children in the program grows, so does the total amount spent per week.

Outreach has said in the past there are several ways to help, whether volunteering to pack food or deliver food, or donating money or kid-friendly foods.

If you have questions or want additional information, you may call Lora Morgan, Feed-A-Kid coordinator, at 894-2988 or you may send donations to Thermal Belt Outreach, P.O. Box 834, Columbus, N.C. 28722.