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Friday, May 6, 2016

Summer feeding program keeps children healthy

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What's a hot dog without the right toppings? A staffer applies ketchup to a child's hot dog at the Summer Feeding Program on Tuesday.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney)
In 2009, nearly half of all children in Bedford County qualified for free or reduced-price school lunches.

But what happens to those children when school is not in session?

This is the fifth summer for Johnson Residential Homes in Shelbyville to host a summer feeding program for local youth. The actual food is paid for with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but transportation is being provided with the assistance of local churches and agencies.

Children up to 18 years old are eligible for the program, which is being held from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. each weekday through July 29 at the former Braylon's restaurant, 423 Flack Road. There's room for additional children to participate. For transportation, call 607-5088, 224-8724 or 607-5913.

On Wednesday, the menu included hot dogs, baked beans, applesauce, fresh vegetables with ranch dressing to dip, and milk. The hot dogs and applesauce were popular; the fresh veggies, not so much.

Richard Smith, a member of First Presbyterian Church who helped rally support for the program, said that it goes beyond a hot meal. Sometimes, he said, the kids just need someone to talk to, a listening ear.

The program has helped in other ways as well. Last year, the program obtained backpacks filled with school supplies and gave them out at the end of the summer.

There weren't quite enough to go around, said Joyce Johnson, daughter-in-law of Mamie Johnson, who operates Johnson Residential Homes, so a game was organized to choose which kids went home with the backpacks.

This year, the program would like to have a backpack for every child. Donations are now being sought, either money or in-kind contributions like school supplies or backpacks.

And other agencies have used the feeding program as a way to try to get word to families about available programs. For example, the health department sent kids home with flyers about the CoverTN program.

Joyce Johnson said she's seen some of the same kids participate in the program year after year.

"It's a blessing to see them grow up," she said.

Smith said his involvement with the program started last year after he read a Times-Gazette story about the school system's backpack program, That program sends homeless students (as defined by the federal McKinney-Vento Act) away on the weekend with a discreet bag of food supplies. But that program only applies during the school year. What was available to feed kids during the summer?

Smith found out about Johnson's program and has helped work to arrange transportation. On Wednesday, vans from Mt. Zion Baptist and First Christian Church brought children, and he said Believers Faith Fellowship in Christiana and First Presbyterian Church have helped supply money for gas. Other churches, such as First United Methodist and First Christian, have provided volunteers.

"It's been fairly easy to get support," said Smith.

The newly-formed Boys & Girls Club of Bedford County has begun bringing its members to the feeding site as well.