A timid 7-year-old boy picks up a phone and dials the number for MUST Ministries.

The dial tone rings out and a woman answers on the other end.

“Can you bring us lunches?” the 7-year-old says. He’s been hungry this summer. And that’s not uncommon.

More than 350,000 children across Greater Atlanta are hungry during the summer months. The lunches they’ve come to expect each day during the school year are no longer available.

That was what led United Way of Greater Atlanta to launch its Silence the Growl summer meal initiative about six years ago with the purpose of feeding children who are hungry each summer because they don’t have access to school lunch.

MUST Ministries is an agency that partners with United Way. Community Outreach Coordinator for MUST Breier Sanders answered the little boy’s call that day.

“He wanted his family to be added on the route for delivery,” Sanders says. “A child calling, not a parent, made it feel more urgent and it hit my heart a little harder.”

Unfortunately, the family’s address was not near any route that was already operating, Sanders says. But every Monday she would knock on his door to give him food for the week.

In six years, more than 230,000 meals fed children in need through Silence the Growl. United Way’s efforts have been successful. In 2019, United Way reached its goal of serving 80,000 meals. This success has allowed the program to expand year-round and because of programs like this, kids can focus on more important things — like, being kids.

United Way saw after its strategic planning meeting two years ago that the zip code a child lived in too often determined the fate of that child. United Way saw that, statistically, because of what zip code a child was born into, he or she was handed a disadvantage beyond their control. Through a set of 14 measures, United Way calculated at the time a child well-being score of 58.9.

On May 9, officials announced the score had improved in two years to 61.8. That equates to a change in the lives of more than 82,000 children in the region living in low or very low child well-being. By using the child as the lens, we can identify the big picture needs of the community, and if the child is fed, then there’s one less thing he or she needs to worry.

Sanders says about 10 children came running to meet her at the door that first Monday. This then became her weekly routine, and it was a routine she started looking forward to.

“Delivering food to them was the beginning of a beautiful relationship that taught me that beyond food was fellowship and family,” Sanders says.

If you would like to help us Silence the Growl across Greater Atlanta year-round, and give kids the opportunity to reach their full potential, click here.