Last week I had the opportunity to board a big yellow school bus and head into some of the most rural and impoverished areas in Tennessee. Each week the local Feeding America member food bank stocks the bus, called the Lunch Express, with food and drives hundreds of miles through Greene County, delivering what might be the only meals that some children have access to during the summer months when school is out.
According to Map the Meal Gap, the state of Tennessee has the 14th highest rate of child food insecurity in the country (24 percent). In Greene County, the rate of child food insecurity is even higher at 28 percent.
Fortunately, programs like the Lunch Express, operated by Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, are working hard to close the summer meal gap for children, teens, and families. The Lunch Express is a mobile distribution program that is generously funded in part by ConAgra Foods Foundation Hunger-Free Summer grants. This program enables Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee to focus on serving high-need rural populations and providing summer food assistance to children and youth who might not otherwise receive adequate food during the summer months.
The Lunch Express has one devoted spokesperson in Mr. Rick Bible, who has driven the big yellow bus – and even composed a song about it – since the route’s inception in 2013. During my visit, we joined Mr. Bible on his summer feeding route. In the span of one afternoon, we visited ten different communities and provided 128 nutritious meals to kids whose families struggle to make ends meet. Once the bus was parked, children and teens jumped on the bus or gathered in a safe area nearby to eat their meal. At each stop, Mr. Bible took it upon himself to knock on front doors to make sure every child received their free summer meal. He knew every child’s name and made meal time easy for kids that certainly needed it.
Without the Hunger-Free Summer grant, dedicated volunteers like Mr. Bible wouldn’t have an opportunity to give back to the community or help kids in need. But even more crucially, the Hunger-Free Summer grant ensures that children facing hunger stay healthy and happy during the summer months. Now that’s worth writing a song about.
*Juana Trujillo is a program associate at Feeding America.