Seventy thousand Georgia children live in households without adequate food. Twenty-seven percent of kids in Georgia live at risk of hunger. And to top it off, Georgia is the 4th highest in child food insecurity nationwide. Does that sound like the great empire state of the south we know and love? It probably doesn’t but it’s our current reality.
Hunger is a silent scourge in our state’s schools. An empty belly impacts a child’s ability to focus, emotional well-being, and physical capability to grow. All these factors are impacting the children who will become tomorrow’s citizens.
If hunger is the unheard villain in our schools, Operation Lunchbox and Dave Newman are the unsung heroes. Delivering groceries to hundreds of children who are homeless or considered homeless by poverty standards, Dave makes sure that Georgia’s youngsters don’t go to bed hungry. Dave hasn’t taken a paycheck since February, but he shrugs that off because he gets to do what he loves: feeding kids.
During this upcoming holiday of abundant eats, do you want to make sure hungry children across our state don’t miss out on a square meal? Sure, you do. And Operation Lunchbox is here to help.
What is Operation Lunchbox? What do you do?
We currently provide groceries to between 1,200 to 1,800 kids per week. We work with counselors and social workers at schools who let us know how many students are hungry. We pack bags to deliver to over 50 schools so that students have groceries to take home on Friday afternoons.
We are a 501(c)3 so we operate on donations and key partnerships. All the money we get from our donors we use to buy groceries at cost from Food Depot. That, plus the donated groceries we get from community members, goes a long way in addressing the needs of our state’s children.
We are looking to expand into Florida, as well as 5 Georgia counties. It’s amazing how many school administrators reach out to us for these services. We’ve been asked to come into Atlanta Public Schools, Gwinnett County, Walton County, Covington County and Rockdale County. Across rural and urban communities, hunger is the same; children should never have to face it. The need is endless and the only limitations we have in addressing it is the amount of food we can collect.
Can you tell me a little bit about why you founded Operation Lunchbox?
I grew up in poverty in Georgia. Even though our family didn’t have enough, everyone came to our house to eat. My mom had the heart to make sure everyone was fed; I’ve just kept that going.
In January of 2015, I was visiting the mother of an ex-girlfriend of mine who is an elementary school principal. I told her about my interest in disaster relief after the 2015 Georgia tornado. Out of the blue, this little 11-year-old girl who was coloring in the office said: “Mister, kids who don’t eat is devastation, too.” Without skipping a beat, the principal told me they had 63 kids without food at home. That was such an ah-ha moment for me, especially since I grew up that way. The next day I went back to the school with groceries for all 63 students. We’ve been feeding kids ever since that day, often with money out of my own pocket.
Is Operation Lunchbox helping? Can you tell an impact?
Oh, absolutely. Not only do our statistics show impact, but I also get some amazing feedback. For example, I was delivering groceries at a school and a little girl around 7 or 8 years old asked me if I was the one who brings them food. When I said yes, she hugged me and started crying. The next time I saw her she gave me a Valentine’s Day card that said, ‘Thank you for the groceries, I love you.’ Interactions like that assure me that our model is working, kids are eating.
That is so powerful. How can our readers help – especially with Thanksgiving coming up?
We need volunteers, as well as donations of food and money. We always need help bagging groceries and on our delivery team. Of course, monetary donations are extremely helpful.
We also always need nonperishable grocery items. With Thanksgiving coming up, we’re going to give kids extra groceries since they’ll be out of school for a week. Our delivery team will even pick up canned goods from donors. If folks wanted to have a canned food drive at work, in church, or around their neighborhood, we can pick up those items and make sure kids get them in time for Thanksgiving. Give us a holler at 678-333-4900 or firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a pick-up time that works for you!
Headline photo credit. All other photos are property of Operation Lunchbox.