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Food For Thought program continues to grow

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Volunteers meet every Tuesday afternoon to fill backpacks full of food for 48 children who qualify for the Food for Thought backpack program. Volunteers pictured above, from left, are Linda Norton, Ken Bandy, Sharon Bandy, Jo Stair and John Blue. Each backpack is filled with enough kid-friendly meals for a weekend. [Times Photo by Lisa Craft]
The Food for Thought Backpack program is in its second year and has doubled the number of children it feeds from 24 to 48.

The program is a ministry of First Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church of Monett in partnership with Ozarks Food Harvest and Monett Elementary School.

"There are a lot of people that are not aware of the hunger problem right here in Monett," said Geneva Blue, an educator at the Southwest Area Career Center in Monett and program coordinator.

According to statistics provided by the backpack program, 50,000 Missouri children and 16,000 in the Ozarks live in poverty and food insecurity. Twenty-five percent of the children in Barry County live in poverty and 22 percent of the children in Lawrence County live in poverty.

Monett Elementary School had 63 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch rates during the 2007-08 school year, which is more than 300 students. Nearly 50 percent of schools in southwest Missouri have 50 percent or greater participation in free and reduced school lunches.

The Food for Thought Program provides nutritional weekend food that a school- age child can prepare independently. Food for Thought works with school districts to identify groups of 24 chronically hungry children who rely heavily on school meal programs.

These children are often hungry from the time they leave school on Friday until they return to school on Monday. Each week, Food for Thought provides supper for Friday, and breakfast, lunch and supper for Saturday and Sunday with additional nutritious snacks.

First Christian Church (FCC) of Monett partnered with Ozarks Food Harvest to bring the Food for Thought to the Monett Elementary School at the start of the 2008-09 school year. Ozarks Food Harvest delivers the food monthly, administers and regulates the program based on federal guidelines and provides the backpacks. FCC members and volunteers have committed to funding and providing volunteer support for the first group of 24 children for three years.

This year, with the donations of individuals, churches and businesses, an additional 24 children are receiving backpacks. With each group of 24 children there is a three- year commitment.

"This in no way fixes the problem," said Blue, "but it gives kids food for the weekend. These items are kid friendly, so if they have parents that work on the weekend, they can open their own meals and stick them in the microwave.

"As the word got out in the community, others have wanted to help with sponsorship," Blue added. "It has taken on a life of its own with community donations. The public support is huge."

According to Blue, the total cost per year is $8,000 per group of 24 children.

"The big concern is as the economic situation continues, we are concerned about our sustainability," Blue said. "The need is not going to go away. Perhaps part of these children won't need this service in the future, but there will be 24 kids coming up behind them that will need it. So we continue to try to focus a year ahead."

Those wishing more information or to make a donation can contact the First Christian Church in Monett at 417-235-7233.

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