A Cobb County charity is vowing to feed children this summer despite health department regulations that forced major changes in how it provides food.
MUST Ministries has had to revamp its Summer Lunch Program, the flagship initiative that provides meals to less fortunate children, due to rules that prohibit them from accepting and serving homemade food. MUST had relied on volunteers who made sandwiches in their homes, which were then packed with a dry snack and juice box for distribution to children in seven counties.
Earlier this year, however, the Cobb & Douglas Public Health Department reminded MUST Ministries that all food must be prepared in certified kitchens to minimize the risk of food-borne illnesses. The 10-week lunch program will now have to rely on donations to hire a vendor to provide the sandwiches, said MUST President and CEO Ike Reighard.
The nonprofit is accepting donations for the SOS, or Save Our Sandwiches, initiative and hopes to raise about $225,000 for this year’s campaign. As of Thursday, MUST has raised enough money to buy 90,000 sandwiches, which will last three weeks, said Kaye Cagle, MUST vice president of marketing and public relations. However it still needs enough money to cover the remaining seven weeks for the program.
Reighard said the change has “caught us by surprise” since the organization has not had any reports of anyone getting sick after eating lunches prepared by volunteers.
“It was certainly a curveball for us,” Reighard said. “While it may sound small, in reality for us, to be able to get a free packaged sandwich, it’s 74 cents (per meal).”
Along with money for hiring a vendor to provide food to children, MUST also had to pay to use a place to store the sandwiches before they are distributed to children.
In 2018, the program served about 260,000 lunches to thousands of children and organizers are hoping to at least meet that number this year, Cagle said. On any given day last year, between 6,000 and 7,000 children in Cherokee, Cobb, Bartow, Fulton, Gwinnett, Douglas and Pickens counties were served sack lunches, Cagle said.
No matter the cost, Reighard said MUST Ministries will not let metro Atlanta school children go hungry this summer.
“That was never an option for us,” he said. “We know that this is what we are called to do.”
Tara Hanover, of Smyrna, a longtime volunteer who collects nonperishable items for the MUST Ministries program, said she expects to serve 500 lunches each day out of Tillman House, the distribution point for the area. While she said she understands the need for regulations, she noted MUST has always provided guidelines for volunteers who are preparing food for children.
“I think it’s a shame that all of this was brought up,” she said.
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