As children return to school this week, the joy of seeing their friends, sharing summer stories, wearing new shoes or clothes and hearing the laughter ring though the hallways of Haywood County Schools is all too familiar. However, this joyous time is overshadowed for many children, as they fear going hungry on the evenings and weekends.
According to a recent Map the Meal Gap Study, 28.2 percent — 3,240 children in Haywood County — are “Food Insecure.” This means those children live in households facing difficulty meeting basic food needs. Over half of the children attending school in Haywood County are on free or reduced lunch. For many, this is the only source of food all week.
Food insecurity in Haywood has become epidemic, and teachers and counselors have discovered that students are having trouble learning; their attention span is short; and their focus is on food rather than school. That’s why the Waynesville Rotary Club stepped forward to help fight this issue.
“It hurts in your heart to know that children are going hungry,” said Brandon Anderson, past president of the Waynesville Rotary Club. “We refuse to deny these children what they need, and the need is great. Children cannot learn when they are hungry.”
In the 2011-2012 school year, The Waynesville Rotary Club began an ambitious campaign they call Haywood’s Hungry Kids. This program developed out of a pilot program in Haywood County Schools in partnership with MANNA Food Bank where a qualifying child would receive a packaged meal to take home each Friday so they would have some nutrition over the weekend.
Due to lack of funding the program was to be cut, being able to serve only 267 children out of the 3,200 in need. Through the efforts of many generous people, organizations, civic clubs and churches, last year Haywood’s Hungry Kids was a great success. The program did not die and, in fact, increased by 50 percent, serving 387 students last year. In addition, The Waynesville Rotary Club Foundation funded a pilot program this summer with the help of MANNA Food Bank and was successful in feeding 107 children each week for 10 weeks.
“While last school year was a success, we have begun another year, another challenge, and we need donations and volunteers to insure the success of the program this year,” said Anderson. “This is not something that is just going to go away. The last thing we want to do is reduce the size of the program or have to cancel the program due to funding. Our children are counting on us.”
Currently, Haywood’s Hungry Kids — through the Waynesville Rotary Club Foundation — is in receipt of donations that will insure the 387 children participating in the program last year will receive food bags each week through mid-fall. “We need help,” said Anderson.
The Waynesville Rotary Foundation has several fundraisers planned throughout the year to attempt to sustain and grow the current program. A $128 donation will support one child for the entire school year in the MANNA Food Packs Program, but all donations of any amount are accepted and appreciated. All donations to Help Haywood’s Hungry Kids are tax-deductible and benefit the children of Haywood County directly. Checks can be made out to the Waynesville Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 988, Waynesville, N.C., 28786. For further questions about the program or to volunteer call 828.452.1288.
(Submitted by the Waynesville Rotary Club)