As a kid, I always looked forward to summer vacation. I spent my mornings with a bowl of peanut butter Captain Crunch followed by episodes of Clarissa Explains It All. Fortunately, my mom never worked during the summer (she's a teacher), so we spent our lazy days at the town pool or beach. My friends and I enjoyed too many snow cones, Little Debbie brownie packs, and other sugar-laden treats. I tried to make up for this by eating all of my vegetables at dinner, much to my parents' delight.
However, many children, especially in rural Tennessee, don't get to experience carefree summers like this. They're worried about something that most of us probably don't think twice about--hunger. Instead of swimming, camp, or sports, these children are living in a constant fear that they will never have enough to eat.
That's where the Lunch Express comes in. Lunch Express is a school bus transformed into a bread truck. A food bank in Tennessee saw a need to make sure eligible children received regular meals during the summer, a time where food stamps often run out. The food bank purchased four school buses earlier this year and created routes that pass through some of the most impoverished areas of the country "where poverty rates have almost doubled since 2009 and two-thirds of children qualify for free meals," according to the Washington Post.
Rick Bible, the driver of the Lunch Express, tackles his 66-mile route through Greene County each day, transporting three coolers of sack lunches containing celery sticks, canned oranges, chocolate milk and a bologna sandwiches. For many children, this is their first and only meal of the day.
The Lunch Express isn't a free-for-all. Bible remains at each trailer park stop for 15 minutes to make sure all of the children finish their lunches. They can't take food or extra milk home, and adults are ineligible for the lunches, unless they are disabled.
But it's not just kids who are hungry in the summer. Their parents are struggling, too. In an area plagued by high unemployment and lagging development, healthy food is hard to come by. Families do anything to stay satisfied when their food stamps run out and stockpile calories whenever they come available. Eli Saslow, a writer for the Washington Post, observed children eating dinners of Doritos, bread, candy, or whatever else they can get their hands on. One mother of five who relies heavily on the Lunch Express told the Washington Post she sometimes feeds her 9-month-old Mountain Dew to top off her formula.
Luckily, food stamps last longer during the school year thanks to free meals and snacks. The Lunch Express is making a difference, but one meal every day isn't enough to satisfy these children. Congress must allocate more money to summer food programs.
We can't make hunger disappear, but there are plenty of ways to help struggling families. Donate a bag of non perishables to your food pantry every few months. Many are in need due to record numbers of unemployment, and the food pantries need all of the help they can get. If you don't have time to shop, a gift card to a grocery store is also a good choice. Spend an afternoon at a food bank or shelter if you have time to spare. Your kids will learn the importance of giving back, as well as the satisfaction of a good deed.
Image of boy eating sandwich via Shutterstock