OLIVER SPRINGS, Tenn. (WATE) — More than 12,500 kids are in need of food once they get home from school. That’s only including the number of children benefiting from Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee’s Food for Kids program.
Over at Norwood Elementary in Oliver Springs, just about all the students receive free breakfast and lunch, according to school counselor Ashely Sutton.
“We’re a Title I school, so my kiddos may not have enough to eat when they get home in the evenings, they may not have enough to eat on the weekends,” Sutton said.
Sutton’s office is filled with snacks for those who need a little something to hold them over. Thanks to Second Harvest and their Food for Kid’s program, Sutton said her kids can at least eat on the weekends.
“We don’t know. When they leave our door on Friday afternoon, we don’t know if the next meal that they’re going to get will be breakfast here on Monday. So, if they’re not receiving food all weekend long, at least I know and I can rest that I’ve given them something that will tie them over until Monday,” Sutton said.
Sutton’s school receives easy-to-open and easy-to-cook food to pack for the kids. She has some fifth-grade students help her pack bags filled with items like canned corn, soup or beef jerky and some milk. It’s filled with anything Second Harvest drops off.
Then, Sutton and her fifth-grade students pass them out on Fridays.
“They have a certain amount of kids that need them because some kids can’t get food,” Jackson Sutton, a fifth-grade student at Norwood and Ashley Sutton’s son, said.
“We will grab bags, we will take however many the class needs, take them to the classroom, give the teacher a note that says who they go to,” Caden Bonham, another fifth-grade student, said.
Sutton said the kids are always very appreciative and excited when they know they’re getting those bags of food.
“My kids remind me on a daily basis, ‘is it Friday for food bags yet?’ ‘Nope, not yet. I’ll get you a Friday food bag on Friday,’” Sutton said.
Madison Harmon, the Communications and Digital Media Coordinator for Second Harvest, said she knows just how important good nutrition is for kids and their growing bodies and brain.
“I’ve seen the effects of how a child develops when they are not nourished properly. You can’t expect a kid to sit there for an eight-hour school day and focus on trying to learn when they were not sure when the last time they had a good, nutritious meal was,” Harmon said.
She said it’s extremely important to Second Harvest to make sure those kids aren’t hungry. Without having to worry about food, they can focus on their future.
“We’re setting our students up for success, because if you got one of those basic needs met, now you can focus on learning and growing and being a wonderful member of this community and society,” Harmon said.
Sutton is grateful for the help from Second Harvest in numerous ways. Not only does she get enough food to give the kids for the weekend, but if she runs low or needs a little extra, Second Harvest is glad to fill the order.
“If I have a family in crisis, and the kids will come to me and say, ‘you know, we don’t have anything at my house to snack on or eat,’ then I will send extra stuff home throughout the week. And they make it possible that I have enough that I’m able to do that,” Sutton said.
It’s easy to help Second Harvest in their fight against hunger and childhood hunger. Second Harvest is always looking for volunteers, and Harmon said a dollar goes a long way for these children.
“One hundred dollars feeds a child for the entire school year. I can’t feed myself for that little amount of money. So, if you make a donation of a hundred dollars on our website, you will sponsor a Food for Kids child for the entire school year,” Harmon said.
Nexstar Media Group is teaming up with Feeding America to bring awareness and help end food insecurity during September, which is Hunger Action Month.
Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. It’s a nationwide network with 200 food banks and 60,000 community partners coast to coast.