Families who are struggling to put food on the table can call Quality Care for Children at 877-All-GA-Kids or log onto www.qualitycareforchildren.org.
SUMMER FOOD SITES
- Hills at Fairington, 5959 Fairington Road, Lithonia; 9-10 a.m. and noon-1 p.m. Open June 2-Aug. 8.
- Life Church Inc., 3243 Stone Road S.W., Atlanta; 5:30-6:15 p.m. Open July 21-25.
- Terraces at Parkview, 6800 Parkview Trail, Community Room, Lithonia; 9-10 a.m. and noon-1 p.m. Open June 2-Aug. 8.
With the school year winding down, many parents are thinking about how to keep their children active this summer.
But for the thousands of metro Atlanta parents whose kids qualify for free school lunches, a much harder question looms: How will they keep their children fed?
In Georgia, more than 1 in 4 or 28.8 percent of children live in food "insecure" households, said Pam Tatum, president and CEO of Quality Care for Children, a nonprofit that works to ensure that children are nurtured and educated.
When school and the subsidized lunches that come with it end, so, too, do reliable meals for many children, Tatum said.
Tatum said that studies show that children who don’t get enough to eat don’t learn as much as fast or as well as their peers and that the long-term impact on their health and brain development lingers in adulthood.
And so this summer marks the third that Quality Care for Children has been standing in the gap, providing food to nearly 1,100 children at 20 sites across metro Atlanta during the summer months. The free meals are made possible through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, area child care programs, Open Hand, which prepares the meals, and local chefs who will visit sites to talk about nutrition.
In addition to the QCC program, United Way of Greater Atlanta recently launched its first ever crowdfunding campaign to help provide meals to children this summer, said Milton Little Jr., president and CEO of the nonprofit.
The agency hopes to raise $30,000 to provide at least 12,000 more meals to needy children. The campaign ends June 6.
“Through this campaign, we are taking a new approach and challenging the community to be bold and demonstrative in their commitment to end summer hunger for our children,” Little said. “Children should not have to worry about where to find food. Instead, they should have fun learning how to swim, breaking summer reading records or participating in science camp.”
Little said he hopes metro Atlantans will use their social media platforms to help spread the word about the campaign. To donate, visit www.silencethegrowl.org.
QCC’s summer food program gets underway June 2. Although enrollment slots for most of the sites have been filled, Tatum said there are three sites — Terraces at Parkview, Hills at Fairington, and Life Church Inc. — still taking children. No enrollment is necessary.
“They can just show up,” she said.
QCC, which has three locations in Cartersville, Athens and Atlanta, has a long history of helping feed needy children, but Tatum said the agency stepped up its efforts a few years ago after child care programs reported kids were coming to them hungry, especially on Mondays after a weekend at home.
“We also noticed that these were not always people who you’d think would be hungry,” Tatum said. “As food has gotten more expensive and wages have stagnated, middle-income families are struggling, too, and one of the first expenses they cut is their food expenses.”
Often that means filling tummies with less-expensive, high-calorie foods with little nutritional value, she said.
In addition to providing meals to children, Tatum said the summer food program is also a way for QCC to introduce children to new foods, educate them about nutrition, provide children with a safe place to spend their summer, and make sure children don’t experience a summer brain drain.
Tatum said that what’s troubling is because the economy seems to be improving, people find it hard to believe food “insecurity” is even an issue many families face. But with the cuts in food stamps and other public assistance, she said a lot of families don’t have enough food to get through the end of the month.
“It’s such a basic need, you’d think part of our social contract would be to guarantee food to kids who need it,” Tatum said.
Jill Sieder knows better. As executive director of the East Atlanta Kids Club, one of the 20 sites providing food and a safe haven this summer, she sees these children when school is in session and when it isn’t.
“Most of the children attend Title 1 schools and qualify for free or reduced lunch, so summer can pose a hardship for a lot of families,” she said.
Like the majority of the participating summer camps and child care programs, the East Atlanta Kids Club will provide breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack to children five days a week throughout the summer.
Renay Allen and Tameka Byrd each have three children enrolled in the program. Each say the end of school is the beginning of a worrisome long stretch for them.
“During school, kids don’t really eat as much at home,” Byrd said. “Once school is out, it really throws me off. It gets harder to make ends meet.”
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com