MUST Ministries is reaching out to the community for help in feeding its most at-risk youth over the summer, after state and county health officials told the nonprofit it can no longer accept homemade sandwiches for sack lunches.
The announcement from the Cobb and Douglas Public Health Department last month means volunteers cannot cook meals for youth or the homeless unless they are prepared in a church kitchen, restaurant, grocery story deli or other certified kitchen and applies to all charitable organizations.
Certification of kitchens would require the kitchens to include state-required facilities and pass a state health department inspection, as well as employ a trained supervisor to oversee the volunteers’ preparation of food, according to Ike Reighard, president and CEO of MUST.
Reighard said the ministry, which provides sack lunches to children in need when school is out, has never run into issues with preparation.
“This year is the 24th summer that MUST has fed hungry children and we have never had a problem, so this is devastating news for us. And the valuable meal program begins in just two weeks,” Reighard said in a press release.
Last year, the ministry provided 259,154 lunches in seven counties, and serves about 7,000 children every weekday during summer break, according to MUST spokeswoman Kay Cagle.
Reighard said the ministry has always provided step-by-step food safety preparation and storage instructions to volunteers, which should negate the need for preparation in a certified kitchen.
“Generous churches, civic clubs, businesses, neighborhoods and individual families have always donated all of the food and preparation for this important feeding program that serves our youngest, most vulnerable population,” he said, adding that it is common for many children served to eat half of a sandwich for lunch and save the other half for dinner.
In response to the health department’s decision, the nonprofit has launched a Save Our Sandwiches fundraising campaign, asking people to donate money that would normally be used to purchase sandwich supplies.
“We are hoping the community will give enough to purchase more than $225,000 in sandwiches to feed the children over the course of 10 weeks,” Reighard said. “Our commitment to these children is strong and we intend to feed them, but we need a miracle. That’s what we are praying for and trusting God to provide.”
Reighard said the organization has been “flooded by calls of concern” from host sites across Cherokee, Cobb, Bartow, Fulton, Gwinnett, Douglas and Pickens counties.
“Now we just hope that concern will turn into donations so we can continue giving meals to sustain these children living in poverty right here in our community,” he said.
The organization will purchase prepackaged sandwiches from a national sandwich company at a “significantly discounted price,” Cagle said.
The ministry focuses on meat sandwiches, to avoid peanut allergy concerns, and will continue to offer a juice box or bottled water with two snacks like a fruit cup and pretzels. Cagle said volunteers drive lunches primarily to apartment complexes and mobile home communities, which are identified by school counselors as areas of most need.
To donate to the Save Our Sandwiches campaign, text the phrase “MUSTSOS” to phone number 52182. Sandwiches are 75 cents each. Fifty dollars buys about 66 sandwiches, and $100 buys 133 sandwiches. Donors can also give on Facebook or at mustministries.org, by writing “Summer Lunch” in the donation notes.