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.

Two weeks into MUST Ministries’ summer lunch program, Kristen Miller received a troubling email.

Miller, who works as a Community Outreach Coordinator for MUST, says a mother of six children emailed her letting her know she needed help feeding her family.

“I immediately contacted the lead volunteer at our closest host site and asked if we could add them to one of our routes,” Miller said. “The next day, we were serving them lunches.”

Each summer, more than 350,000 children are hungry. These children have come to expect the lunch provided by their school, and during the summer, that one reliable meal they had the other 10 months is no longer available.

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.

Miller said about a week after she served the family, she was able to assist volunteers as they delivered to the family.

“As we pulled up to their house, she and her children were so excited to see us,” Miller said. “She looked at my name tag and exclaimed, ‘Oh my goodness! You’re the one who helped me! Thank you so much for helping me feed my kids!’”

The mother of six stood there in the doorway with Miller, hugging her as tears rolled down her cheek.

“This was just one of the many experiences that emotionally moved me and reinforced how grateful I am to be serving our community,” Miller said.

United Way of Greater Atlanta began serving its community in a new way about two years ago following its strategic planning meeting. The nonprofit began to notice that a child too often had his or her destiny determined by the zip code they grew up in — they were 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, and United Way began intentionally targeting efforts in areas of low child well-being.

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.

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 ministry in Conyers hosted classes about nutrition at several United Way of Greater Atlanta Silence the Growl meal-packing sites this past summer.

Barbara Muse, executive director of Bread Of Life Development Ministries, said the classes helped teach kids in their community how to choose and prepare healthy food options.

“One of the special times this summer was the nutrition education cooking classes we were able to implement with some of the children at three of our program sites,” Muse said. “The children learned how to make a healthy breakfast, and then were able to eat the meal they had prepared.”

There’s a need for children to learn about nutrition, but United Way of Greater Atlanta also helps feed these children, too.

Each summer, more than 350,000 children are hungry. These children have come to expect the lunch provided by their school, and during the summer, that one reliable meal they had the other 10 months is no longer available.

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.

Muse said the children enjoyed the program and were “excited” and enthusiastic about applying the skills they had learned.

“We also had a ‘Mobile Food Pantry’ during the summer,” Muse said. “So many families of the children we serve were able to obtain groceries for cooking at home as well.”

United Way of Greater Atlanta began serving its community in a new way about two years ago following its strategic planning meeting. The nonprofit began to notice that a child too often had his or her destiny determined by the zip code they grew up in — they were 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, and United Way began intentionally targeting efforts in areas of low child well-being.

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.

BOLD Ministries is located in the 30094-area code of Conyers. In 2016, 30094 had a child well-being score of 63.8. That number increased with the newest batch of data to 64.3. There are about 8,149 in the 30094-area code where 17.7 percent of the children live in poverty, which means more than 1,400 children experience chronic hunger in their community.

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.

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.

United Way of Greater Atlanta engages volunteers during Food Insecurity Week

By Bradley Roberts

Have you eaten breakfast today? In Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties, there are 350,000 children at risk of going without one or more meals each day this summer.

United Way of Greater Atlanta called attention to that issue the week of June 10 with its annual Food Insecurity Week. Monday through Friday, United Way and its partners hosted volunteer events to bring attention to food scarcity problems in our communities and the collaborative work agencies are doing to address hunger over the summer.

The events included projects assisting food pantries, meal packing and working in community gardens. Food Insecurity Week was a way for volunteers to work actively to help support agencies serving meals — the agencies who need it most.

The week was also the kickoff for United Way’s Silence the Growl initiative, which is a summer meal program that helps feed children who are on free or reduced lunch during the school year.

About 25 volunteers from NCR and DeKalb County volunteered at Salvation Army Peachcrest Corps Boys and Girls Club on Tuesday filling snack-packs for the more than 100 children the center provides services for during the summer.

“We have summer programs, and then we are able to offer them breakfast and lunch during the day,” says Giovanni Sturgis, program director for the Boys and Girls Club. “They are here from about 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. They have a quiet room, a game room and a center and activity space for teens.”

This center is in the middle of the 30032 zip code in South DeKalb. That zip code has a Child Well-Being Score of 22.4, and an overall score of 35, which is well below the regional average of 61.8.

United Way saw in 2017 that the zip code a child lived in too often determined the fate of that child. United Way saw that children living a few miles away from each other don’t have the same experience.

While some children come to school rested, well fed and prepared for school, others lack the same access to healthy foods, health care and other community resources.

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. United Way used a set of 14 child, family and community measures to help determine the Child Well-Being Index score for each of the zip codes in the 13-county region.

The previous regional score was 58.9, and United Way recently saw this score improve to 61.8 this year. But there’s still work to be done in DeKalb.

There are more than 10,000 children in the 30032 zip code, and only 14.1 percent of those children are exceeding third-grade reading levels, 10.6 percent exceed eighth-grade reading levels and only about 66 percent of those children graduate high school. The community has a 19.2 percent unemployment rate, and 53.3 percent of the families are not financially stable.

“We are at the bottom,” says Sturgis. “We are one of the lowest.”

But Sturgis, and other community organizers like Aaron Johnson, of Urban League of Greater Atlanta, are actively working to climb out of this hole.

“A lot of the issues have to deal with education,” Johnson says. “I’m familiar with this area because of the advocacy I’ve done for this community. I do a lot of work presenting in DeKalb, making sure that people are aware of the growth and impact we are making.

Johnson is a career and employment specialist. He works with the youth who age out of Sturgis’ Boys and Girls Club. These young adults range in age from 18-24, and they could be seeking a number of services — Johnson’s helped them apply for GED courses and industry certifications.

But mostly, he helps them “understand their why.” The why behind the work they are doing. He tries to show these students that the work they put in today will help them in the future and that “it’s important to care about tomorrow, today.”

On June 11, a pair of Johnson’s students joined in with the volunteer group from NCR. They helped pack snack packs with nutritious items that went into to brown paper bags that would go home with Sturgis’ students — they joined Nickki Garcia, who works in the finance department of NCR.

Garcia was coloring the outside of the bags, scribing messages to the children who would later take them. The event was the first volunteer event she had participated in since she moved over to the company nine months ago.

“I want to leave here today with a sense of being a part of this community, and just becoming aware of the issues and [child well-being] scores that are relevant to this community,” she said.

Sturgis’ program helps feed the children during the summer, but he also helps them feed into their community, as well.

“I’ve started to a create a music and arts department here,” Sturgis, who moved in the past two years from Cleveland, Ohio, says. “We’ve started a music program for them, and we have a learning center that focuses on education enrichment. We also have cooking classes and a garden club. We’re trying to teach them everything they need to know so they can grow and make their own food.

“Every day during the school year, that one meal they get may be the only meal. I didn’t think too much about that before coming here. I guess I’m learning along the way with these kids.”

Click here to learn more about Silence the Growl — learn more about how to support programs that combat food insecurity by visiting unitedwayatlanta.org.

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.”