For less than the cost of a cup of premium coffee, a child won’t have to go through the weekend hungry.
Many families in South Georgia and across the United States rely on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Free and Reduced Lunch program to feed their children breakfast and lunch during the school week. But what happens on the weekends?
Some children, not having eaten enough food during the weekend, show up hungry at school Monday morning.
Through their Brian Bowen’s Snax Sax program, Perry United Methodist Church is trying to change that.
Linda Mason, Perry UMC’s missions committee chairwoman, said that the Snax Sax program is a way the church can provide a nutritious snack to those children who have little or nothing to eat during the weekend.
Every Friday afternoon during the school year, volunteers deliver 190 Snax Sax to students at Perry Primary School. The large brown paper bags filled with peanut butter crackers, pudding, cereal, granola bars, chips and more help supplement the weekend meals a child may or may not get at home.
Modeled after the Snax Sax program at Atlanta’s Embry Hills United Methodist Church, Perry UMC’s program was begun in August 2009.
“At the time, we were giving a lot of financial help to different programs that were already set up,” Mason said. “But we wanted to do some hands-on missions where we actually got in the field and saw what our work was doing.”
It costs about $300 to $400 a week to run the program. With 190 Snax Saks handed out each week, the cost per child is close to $2.
The ministry relies on gifts, operating solely on monetary and food donations. It doesn’t receive any funding from the church’s budget, but church and community members support the program with their time and money.
Perry UMC’s drama group recently put on a play and donated their proceeds – almost $5,000 – to the program. A teenage church member gave money she had inherited, and a young boy gave them $1, along with a note that said that he liked the ministry. A Frito-Lay employee gives the group chips and crackers at a discounted rate, and local women’s groups donate food, money and time.
The program is named after Brian Bowen, the church’s former mission chairman, who died of brain cancer in March. Bowen had a passion for helping people, Mason said.
Mason also has a passion for helping others, especially children. An educator for 31 years, Mason said that she wanted to become more involved in church activities after she retired.
“I had always told God that when I retired I wanted to be more active and wanted to help His people more,” she said. “Missions has always been near and dear to my heart, and this is just one of those things that I have really gotten interested in. Helping school children kind of went hand in hand.”
Perry Primary School, which has students in pre-kindergarten through first grade classes, was chosen after Mason met with the school superintendent and nutrition manager and learned that there were children who come to school hungry.
At the beginning of the school year, the ministry sends a letter home to each parent, asking if they’d like food assistance. The program isn’t based on income level or need, Mason said; if a parent requests their child be enrolled in the Snax Sax program, they are.
“We feel like if the parents feel there’s a need, God will provide and God will use that food to the best of its abilities,” she said.
More than 100 volunteers help make Snax Sax a reality. Some are members of Perry UMC, but not all.
Church member Alvalyn Pope likes the ecumenical aspect of the ministry. A Snax Sax volunteer since its inception, Pope oversees the Sax’s deliveries.
“(This ministry) makes us aware that there is a need right here in our small community,” she said. “I think a lot of people are not aware that this situation even exists. We hope in due time that other organizations will adopt another school.”
Seeing the joy on children’s faces as she helps meet that need is one benefit of serving in the ministry, Pope says.
“I see the smiles and excitement on their faces. I once heard a child say, ‘I have something to eat this weekend.’ Parents tell us that they appreciate this wonderful program, especially now at this rough time when they need it most. This has given me a stronger realization of what I knew: that God will help provide our needs.”
--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor
To subscribe to the South Georgia Advocate, the official newspaper of the South Georgia Conference, mail your check, payable to "South Georgia Advocate," P.O. Box 660275 / Dallas, TX 75266-0275. Pay by credit card by calling 1.877.465.1685 or online. A one year subscription is $25 (or $23 for subscribers 65 and older). Keep up with the news of the South Georgia Conference.