South Georgia family is passionate about helping end childhood hunger


By Kara Witherow, Editor

One family’s passion for helping end childhood hunger is making a difference in children’s lives throughout South Georgia and in cities across the United States.

Lindsey Buck, wife of Sandersville United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Joe Buck, helps run Operation Hungry Child, Inc., a non-profit organization she and her mother formed to promote awareness of childhood hunger and to provide assistance to child hunger relief organizations.

Buck’s mother, Melanie Brooks, a single mom who worked long hours and traveled the country as a healthcare consultant, long ago instilled in her three children a passion for helping those in need.

“My mom planted a seed … and said that we needed to be aware of those less fortunate,” Buck said. “My mom was a single mom with three kids in three years, and I remember her working really long hours and working really hard to put food on the table,” Buck said.  “I think we just realized how blessed we were. My mom always made sure that we were aware that we were fortunate. I think, because of that, it just became who we were, serving those less fortunate than ourselves. I think sometimes you don’t realize how blessed you are until you see those who don’t have near what you have.”

Now Buck, herself a mother, is passing that passion to serve others down to her own children, Hannah, 3, and Joe, 17 months.

“It's really about laying a strong foundation for them,” she said.

The SpenserNation Series

During her frequent, long, cross-country trips, Brooks’ travel companion was her three-pound, 12-year-old, Yorkie, Spenser. On the weekends, she and Spenser would wander and explore the cities and local area. While traveling, Brooks would send funny emails to her nieces, nephews, and cousins, detailing the adventures she and Spenser had.

“Over time people told her that she had a gift for writing stories and told her that she needed to really write, so she thought about turning her stories about her dog into children’s books,” Buck said. “For a while she pushed it to the back burner but then really felt an audible calling from God to do this as a ministry, to use this God-given gift of writing and storytelling to benefit something tangible and to make it special.”

So when Brooks decided to put pen to paper, she also put her faith and money into action, and Operation Hungry Child was born. All author proceeds from the five Spenser books she’s written – “Spenser Goes to Portland,” “Spenser Goes to St. Louis,” “Spenser’s Savannah,” “Spenser Goes to El Paso” and “Spenser Va a El Paso” – are given to the Feeding America food bank in the community in which the book is set. The non-profit organization also accepts donations and puts that money toward specific, earmarked causes that help feed hungry children.  

Proceeds from “Spenser's Savannah” support America's Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia.

Operation Hungry Child

One main focus of Buck’s and Operation Hungry Child, at least here in South Georgia, has been to help fund and start Backpack Buddy programs in local United Methodist Churches. In the past three years, they have provided seed money to start two programs, and another United Methodist Church has recently submitted a grant request to start a third.

Epworth United Methodist Church in Jesup started a Backpack Buddy program a few years ago and now serves 20 students every week. Macon’s Forest Hills United Methodist Church serves 225 children at 11 schools in Bibb and Monroe Counties. And just a few weeks ago Riverside United Methodist Church submitted a grant request for seed money to start its own Backpack Buddies program.

The program provides students who are identified by teachers, counselors or administrators as being in need with bags of nutritious, individually sized easy-to-prepare containers of food so they will have food during the weekend.

“One of the things we kept hearing from teachers and others is that there are a lot of kids who eat breakfast and lunch at school on Friday and then might not eat again until breakfast the next Monday,” Buck said. “So we realized that this is a huge need. And this isn’t just a need across the country in a place that we don’t know, but this is a need right here in our own back yard.  So this is easy; this is a specific cause, this is something where we can make a difference immediately, and when you make a difference in one child’s life, that’s an immediate realized difference.”

Helping feed people makes him more aware of the blessing of eating three meals every day, says Rev. Buck, who helped launch Epworth UMC’s Backpack Buddy program.

“Some children do not eat three meals in a weekend, and the reality of hungry children is disheartening,” he said. “When you see a child that you know may only get a bag of potato chips and a bottle of soda to get through the weekend, at best, you know  that something must be done. Operation Hungry Child is a tangible way that you can make a child’s life better. Eating healthy meals improves a child’s ability to learn in school and to grow and develop physically, and it enhances their quality of life. To feed a hungry child is to know that you have made your community a better place to live.”

In addition to helping children, churches and food banks in South Georgia, Operation Hungry Child has provided assistance in Atlanta, North Carolina, St. Louis, Oregon and West Texas.

A family affair

Each time Brooks writes and publishes a book, the entire family travels to the city it’s set in, tours the local food bank, and visits with those they’ll serve and work with.

Although their children are young, the Bucks are setting an example of service for the next generation.

“1 Timothy 6:18-19 are verses I remember often and describe well my hopes as a parent,” Buck said. “Joe and I try to instill qualities like kindness, respect, and love in everyday situations. We also make sure they are considerate of others and show compassion, and recognize everyone as special and deserving of God's love. I think that as long as we can teach our children to be Christ-like, service to others will come naturally.”