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"Me favrit is the juice boxes. I can't afford it becaus I am pour." This is the concluding sentence in a thank-you note to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank from a recipient of a weekend Sack Pack.

During the school year, students in public and nonprofit, private schools may qualify for free or reduced-fee breakfasts and lunches based on family income. The meals are served in school cafeterias. The National School Lunch Act, signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1946, initiated this program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The school lunch program does not cover meals during weekends, school holidays and vacations. Filling this gap is one of the many vital roles of the Chattanooga Area Food Bank with its Sack Pack Program. Eligible students receive bags that contain varied nutritious foods to take home for the weekend. One of the tasks of the many volunteers at the Food Bank is filling the thousands of these Sack Packs to combat childhood hunger.

For children who are 18 years and under, the Food Bank has established summer feeding sites to continue the battle against hunger during the hot months of vacation when children may not have access to daily meals. This program is run in conjunction with the USDA and extends through June and July. Six sites are operated by the food bank. More than 3,600 meals were distributed last summer. Each child is presented with a healthy lunch in a brown bag. The meal must be consumed before the child leaves the site.

Children also benefit from summer family bags, which feed the entire family. Each bag contains five pounds of fresh produce and three pounds of non-perishable food. More than 2,000 bags are distributed each week in eight counties.

All meals meet rigorous, nutritional standards of the USDA. If recipients have diabetes mellitus or reduced kidney function, customized meals are prepared for them.

During Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, many donors to the Food Bank provide vouchers, which are redeemable for turkey dinners.

some text Clif Cleaveland

Emergency food boxes benefit children and their families. Each box contains more than 100 pounds of staples, fresh produce and dairy products. Coordinated with United Way of Greater Chattanooga, this program provided emergency nutritional assistance to more than 13,000 families in 2018. A call from any phone to 211 initiates the nutritional rescue.

The food bank serves 20 counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. A smaller warehouse and distribution center is located in Dalton, Georgia. An estimated 137,000 people who reside in this area do not have enough food. The food bank partners with more than 300 agencies, including Metropolitan Ministries, Salvation Army, church pantries and youth organizations to ensure deliveries of food to where it is needed.

The great majority of us will never face hunger. We eat on a predictable schedule. We can make our meal or snacks from a well-stocked refrigerator or pantry. We may try new recipes or ingredients. We may choose to dine out at one of our area's many restaurants. We are the fortunate ones.

Hunger dominates the life of a person or a family. A hungry child cannot concentrate in the classroom. Hunger generates psychological stresses. Growth and overall health suffer.

Each of the statistics cited above has a name. Sir Richard Doll, the late British epidemiologist, reminded us that "statistics are people with the tears wiped away." Think of the work of the food bank in terms of children named Maria, Jose, Dannie, Rachel, Rosie, Billy. Their futures, and the future of our communities, depend upon predictable access to nutritious food.

Another thank-you note from a child to the food bank stated that Friday was her favorite day of the week because that is when she receives her Sack Pack and knows that somebody loves her.

Contact Clif Cleaveland at ccleaveland@timesfreepress.com.

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