More than 350,000 children across Greater Atlanta are hungry during the summer months — children like Caleb.

Caleb relied heavily on Bridging the Gap, a partner agency with Atlanta Community Food Bank, and its summer meals site to have lunch daily.

At this site, he built strong friendships with other kids just like him and the volunteers who helped run the site.

Caleb’s mother, Amber, had a “really good life” until a car accident three years ago affected her legs and made it impossible for her to work. This past summer, Amber had been watching neighborhood kids at her home and had taken them all to the park where these meals were being served.

“They went down there, and they got a lunch, which was a surprise because I didn’t know it was down there,” Amber says. “That’s how Caleb and the other kids I had with me at the time met these guys, and they really liked them.”

Amber said her son went every day.

“It wasn’t just about the food,” she says. “It was about the friendliness they showed him. At that time, my husband was gone for two months, and he’s the main income. It showed [Caleb] support to be able to talk to someone else instead of just me all the time.”

United Way of Greater Atlanta launched its Silence the Growl summer meal initiative six years ago with the purpose of feeding children who are hungry each summer because they don’t have access to school lunches.

In six years, more than 230,000 meals fed children in need. 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.

Amber is appreciative of all the summer meals that were given to her son.

“You have to be fed to even function on a daily basis,” she says. “Even for children to function right in their mind at anything they do, they have to have [food].

“There’s more people out there than we know. There’s more people than we think that don’t want to let anybody know they’re in that situation.”

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.

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.

Food program gives children access to nutritious meals

By Bradley Roberts

Food insecurity is a problem in Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties.

United Way of Greater Atlanta found once summer break starts, many of the more than 350,000 children in the area who participate in free or reduced school meal programs go without breakfast or lunch.

United Way created the Silence the Growl® campaign, which raises funds for partner agencies in the community that already work to combat the summer hunger problem. Through this partnership, Action Ministries and MUST Ministries are able to prepare, pack and distribute meals five days a week throughout the summer.

“It’s a lot, but it is a drop in the bucket,” says Charles Sterne, director of United Way’s Silence the Growl initiative. “Over the course of the summer program that we fund, we are serving thousands of meals.”

Sterne works on the implementation of the grant funding. He works alongside the community partners helping them secure funds that make these projects possible.

“We’re funding [Silence the Growl] and supplementing the existing programs that MUST and Action run,” Sterne said. “They are the ones sourcing the food, and so we don’t actually participate in that.”

The Silence the Growl program started in 2014, but the relationship with MUST, Action and United Way has been going on for much longer.

“The driving force behind this was campaign dollars raised outside of campaign strategy,” Sterne said. “The idea was to find a project that we could raise funds for through crowdfunding. Summer meals was identified as a potential source for that, and the reason they started the program was to address the issue.”

The partner agencies know the communities they serve. These are communities packed with people from Title I schools who benefit from those free and reduced lunches during the school year. These partners depend on large volunteer-run operations to make these meal-packing programs possible, Sterne said.

Yvonne Byars, senior director of volunteer services for MUST Ministries, oversees thousands of volunteers who prepare meals for Silence the Growl recipients.

“The summer lunch program is over the course of nine weeks, and we start that the Monday after school ends and run that all the way up through the last Friday [before school starts back],” Byars said. “That takes volunteers, donors, corporations and families, and they actually donate the lunches.”

Those lunches include a “sandwich, fruit, a salty snack and a drink,” Byars said.

Many of the volunteers will pack lunches in the MUST Ministries headquarters in Cobb County, says Ashley Allen, grant manager for MUST.

“It’s an elaborate web of logistics,” Allen said. “Some of them [volunteers] will color the bags and write something inspirational for the children. It means so much for those kids when they get those lunches.”

Allen applies for grants that support the summer meal programs. She said Silence the Growl has been one of the biggest supporters to make the programs “successful these past couple of years.”

Many of the volunteers will work multiple shifts throughout the summer, Allen said.

“Some volunteers sign up to work on this all summer long, and there are some that have a delivery route and magnets for their car,” Allen said.

Allen said United Way has been key in making the program a success.

Amy Olvey, director of Hunger Relief Programs at Action Ministries, said besides purchase, preparing, packing and serving meals, volunteers will also engage in “enrichment” activities with the kids receiving the meals.

“We have some teachers that will go out and read to the kids and possibly do an art project,” Olvey said.

The children in the community served come from Title I schools, but the meals are dispersed at apartment complexes, mobile home parks and even some community centers in various counties. Action serves more than 15 counties throughout the course of the 10-week summer period, and they’ve expanded the program to year-round in the Atlanta metro area of Gwinnett, Fulton and DeKalb counties.

Action also works throughout the year with weekend support food programs at the schools during the school year, Olvey said.

“I think the program is very impactful as far as the nutrition, but also the impact that it makes on the family as a whole,” Olvey said. “These families are working, and when kids are out for school breaks, the [family’s] budget really changes. When you have someone on that tight of a budget and they’ve got a change in those numbers, it can really put things out of whack.”

United Way, its partners and donors understand it is fundamental that a child have access to sustainable, nutritious meals. There are a lot of basic needs, but access to food is essential.

“There’s a hierarchy of needs,” Sterne said. “At the base level, there’s food and shelter, but unless a child is eating well— getting enough food to sustain and eating nutritiously, they are not going to be doing well in school. You’re not going to be seeing positive health outcomes if they are just eating junk food or fast food.
“Access to healthy food and nutrition and not being hungry is fundamental to child well-being. It’s at the heart of it.”