Aleta Walley and Cynthia Layton looked forward to the sound of children’s voices this summer.
“The lunch bus is here! The lunch bus is here!” children would shout as the two showed up on in a Madison County school bus with sacked lunches.
Madison County’s Summer Meal Program provided nutritious meals throughout the summer to kids in need, summer campers and other youth at a variety of locales.
Walley and Layton were among several workers who distributed the food, which was prepared every weekday morning in the Madison County Middle School cafeteria. The food included entrees such as hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, as well as vegetables, fruits and milk.
Layton sat in the back of the bus and passed out the meals.
“It made me feel like I was accomplishing something,” she said. “They’d come running to the bus. They would sit there and wait on us to get there with the bus. It was just a joy for me. I rode in the back of the bus. It was just fun. I would learn who everybody was. It was just a joy to know those kids were looking forward to us coming through to take care of them.”
Layton said she felt a bond with the children.
“There were two little boys that touched my heart,” she said. “They were sort of the Opie Taylor type boys. They were just precious. They actually hugged my neck and told me they were going to miss me on my last day.”
Walley also enjoyed providing the meals to kids.
“They were polite,” said Walley of the kids. “Everyone of them said thank you. We had a good reaction to everything. They were just super kids.”
Madison County’s Summer Meal Program is funded by the federal government. About 65-percent of Madison County students qualify for free and reduced lunches. So Madison County receives funding to help meet nutritional needs of children in financially strained households. And this help extends beyond the school year.
The need to feed local children has been apparent as the Summer Meal Program has grown exponentially in the past three years, from 800 meals served in the summer of 2012, 16,000 in 2013 and roughly 27,000 this summer. Meals were made available this summer to all Madison County children ages 1-18 regardless of income.
Amy Bolton, cafeteria manager at MCMS, said the program opened under former nutrition director Misty Friedman and has continued under new director Barbara Adair.
“We’ve found a lot of kids don’t eat unless they’re at school,” said Bolton. “So this is a way for kids to get meals during the summer.”
Several summer staff members show up around 7:30 each morning at MCMS to begin making the meals for kids. Once those meals are prepared, they are put in coolers and loaded onto two vehicles — a school bus and a school system truck. Crews of two then distribute the food to a variety of locales. Lunch drop sites this year included Colbert Baptist Church, Union Baptist Church, the Freshman Academy cafeteria, the Ila Elementary School park, Tranquility Forest Park, the recreation department tennis courts, Diamond Hill Trailer Park, Danielsville Baptist Church, Holly Creek Baptist Church, Carlton Baptist Church, Bluestone Baptist Church, Colbert Baptist Church, Oak Grove Baptist Church, Vineyard’s Creek Baptist Church, Moon’s Grove Baptist Church and Joy Baptist Church.
Meals were also made available at MCMS. Bolton said Meadow Baptist Church picked up meals at the middle school and delivered the food to children around Comer. The cafeteria staff also provided 130 meals each day to kids at Camp Maranatha. And football and band campers were also treated to meals during summer activities.
Those involved in the program say it’s troubling to see so many kids in need of good meals, but heartwarming to be a part of a program aimed at keeping children’s bellies full.
“We had a couple of the kids bring us thank you cards on the last day, telling us thank you for taking time out of our summer to bring them food,” said Walley. “It was very satisfying…They looked forward to the lunch bus each day.”
For more information about the Madison County Summer Meal Program, call Bolton at 706-783-2400 ext. 8.