Across metro Atlanta, more than 300,000 children are in danger of losing one or more meals each during the summer. About 65 percent of students in the Marietta school district receive subsidized lunch during the school year, the district said. About 45.3 percent receive the subsidy in Cobb’s school district.
Students who received subsidized meals throughout the school year are given breakfast, lunch and some snacks. That resource disappears over summer break.
To help, the United Way of Greater Atlanta has launched a fundraising program, called “Silence the Growl,” hoping to fight summer hunger among those children. The group plans to raise at least $30,000 to provide 12,000 meals to low-income children across the metro area, including those in Cobb.
Donations can be made at silencethegrowl.org. A contribution of $5 can buy two lunches. The campaign ends June 6.
“Those are the students who will not get those meals during the summer that we’re targeting, so we’re talking about 35,000 plus students,” said Catherina Owens, regional director for the United Way overseeing operations in Cobb, Cherokee, Douglas and Paulding counties.
Owens, a Marietta resident, said donations also dwindle over the summer when the giving attitudes that come with the holidays are replaced with beach days and family trips.
“In the summertime, it’s vacations,” Owens said.
“Silence the Growl” is in its first year of fundraising and is a program unique to the metro Atlanta area.
“During the summer, 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,” said Milton J. Little Jr., president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Atlanta.
Donations given to the United Way are distributed to partner agencies working in specific communities to fight hunger. One of those agencies is the Marietta-based MUST Ministries, which is in its 19th year of administering a summer lunch program.
That program has exploded since its inception almost two decades ago. Four years ago, it provided 97,000 lunches. Now, it distributes 247,000 meals, which is an annual growth rate of 39 percent, said Chris Fields, senior vice president of programs and administration for MUST Ministries.
It’s an important issue to tackle, Fields said, since about 12 percent of Cobb’s population is at or below the poverty level.
MUST Ministries works with school guidance counselors to target communities with a high population of students receiving subsidized meals. They then reach out to parents in those neighborhoods and invited them to sign up their children for the service.
“Hunger doesn’t stop when school gets out,” Fields said.
Volunteers are needed to purchase, prepare and deliver lunches to a distribution center where the meals are then driven to neighborhoods in need. Interested volunteers can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other community groups take a different spin, Owners said, such as Marietta-based Alive Ministries, which uses extreme couponing to buy food in bulk at discount prices and prepare it for low-income children. That group serves 11 schools throughout Cobb and continues to deliver lunches throughout the summer.