“Oh look, there is a crowd already waiting for us, “I said as we pulled into our first stop of this summer on the Lunch Express. We had several parents and fifteen young, eager faces jumping around, ready to get on the Lunch Express for an early lunch.
“Come on in! Sit down and Ms. Heidi will bring you a lunch,” Wayne, our fearless bus driver, repeated as the line of kids filed past him for a squirt of hand sanitizer before taking a seat.
I spent a good deal of time during high school and college working in the afterschool programs and classrooms. One thing that stuck with me the most was children coming to those places hungry because they did not have enough food at home. My time spent learning about hunger in my community inspired me to become an advocate on hunger issues and to work with people in Northeast Tennessee and Feeding America-member Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee to come up with creative ways to bridge our hunger gaps. This is my second summer volunteering to ride the Lunch Express and feed children through the summer feeding program. I am as excited and thankful for this program as the kids are each summer.
One in four children in rural Northeast Tennessee lives at or below the poverty level. Free and reduced school breakfasts and lunches help ensure these children don’t go hungry during the school year, but when school is out for the summer what can they do? Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee Summer Food Program is here to help. The food bank has operated a summer food program for our eight-county region since 2009 at sites like Boys & Girls Club, Girls Inc. and other places where children in need of food assistance may gather. But for children who do not attend these programs, hunger during the summer may be something they face every day. Unable to make it to a traditional site? The Lunch Express comes to you!
Thanks to our donors and supporters, our food bank is able to provide the “Lunch Express” mobile summer food delivery program. The program, which started in 2012, utilizes four refurbished school buses and takes lunches every weekday to children in poor neighborhoods and remote areas of the region. The food bank hires local school bus drivers and Americorp and Summer VISTA workers to staff the project for a 10 week period during June and July.
Our first week we were feeding around 100 kids a day and there are three other bus routes traveling around neighboring counties feeding dozens more. Combine this with our traditional sites and we are feeding over 1000 children a day. They get a nutritious meal or snack five days a week and on the Lunch Express we are sending home food boxes for families every other week. From urban areas to rural places, we are reaching hungry kids and making an impact by helping our families manage food insecurity during the summer.
*Heidi Davis is a current Americorp member working to solve hunger in her community with Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee and as a program leader of Build It Up East TN.
**Photos courtesy of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee.