ANDERSON — Deanna McNeese says it is hard to listen to children talk about being hungry when school is not in session.
“Times are tough,” said McNeese, a social worker at Anderson Elementary. “We have several kids coming to us, not so much that they are asking for things, but there is a need for food and a need for other items like clothes and shoes.”
Thanks to a program started by the Anderson First United Methodist Church in 2011, some of those children no longer face the challenges of a long weekend of hunger and recently other organizations have joined in the church’s efforts.
The “Buddy Bags” program provides food for students, who have been identified by need, with nutritious items to help feed them on the weekends. Each month, approximately 1,100 children in the Anderson Community Schools district are provided with a bag filled with a single-serving item such as beef stew, beans and franks, fruit bars and canned pasta.
Children at Anderson Elementary were the first to receive the Buddy Bags and the program has since expanded to Valley Grove.
Johanne Coleson, the Buddy Bags coordinator for First United Methodist Church, said giving the children food to keep them from being hungry has been a humbling experience.
“We had one student ask if he could have another bag for his family, it touched me – it really did,” Coleson said. “We had to tell him no, that there is only one a piece.”
Feeding the children requires careful balance in order to reach the most children and prolong the program in the community for as long as possible. Coleson said they are fortunate to receive the food for the bags from Second Harvest Food Bank. Each bag only costs the program $4, she said.
Initial funding for the program was made available through a Madison County Community Foundation grant of $10,000, Coleson said. Additional funding for the program — in excess of $107,000 — has been raised through private donations, friends and members of the Anderson First United Methodist Church.