It’s something many children take for granted and many adults hope they’ll always be able to provide for their families- food on the table. Food2Kids is an organization that has made it their mission to provide food on the weekends for children in the Athens area who take part in the school system’s free or reduced lunch program.
“These children are guaranteed lunch while they’re at school. … Schools also provide a small breakfast,” said Hannah Liss, a senior at UGA and the vice president of the Food2Kids organization in Athens. “During the weekends, there’s no way to be sure the kids are getting fed if they don’t receive these bags.”
Food2Kids is a student run organization created by the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia. It is an organization open only to students, in hopes that these students will find a passion for this work and continue helping the Food Bank through donations and other services after their time in college.
The weekend lunch bags include different items every week. However, a few items that are consistently in the bags include: a carton of milk, fruit, a can of beans or rice, a treat for dessert, a small loaf of bread and entrées. The volunteers meet every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
“None of the volunteers are allowed to know the names of the students or even any sort of vague information regarding who these are given to,” said Stacey Cohen, a sophomore at UGA who has been volunteering with Food to Kids for two years. “Representatives of the schools pick up the bags and bring them back to the students. I’m not even exactly sure how the bags are distributed to the kids.”
The amount of bags that the volunteers are able to make depends on the amount of food provided by the North Georgia Food Bank and other Athens area companies- including Panera and the local Kroger bakery- that donate to the cause. The program has grown exponentially in the last few years.
“Since I started volunteering with Food2Kids, it’s really incredible how much it’s grown,” Liss said. “When I first started volunteering three years ago we made about 100 bags every week. Two weeks ago we were at 820 bags.”
There are seven different schools across five counties that participate in the program. There are many more students on waitlists to receive food, but the food bank does not have the resources to provide for everyone.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that there are children who go home on the weekends and don’t have food,” Liss said. “The fact that [the Athens branch] was able to grow to help 820 students is amazing. I’m hoping this is a sign that they’ll be able to continue growing every year.”
Packing hundreds of bags with food is a time-consuming process, sometimes taking up to three hours.
“I always try to get my friends to come,” Cohen said. “On good days we might get around 20 people to come help us. We average around 10-15 volunteers per week.”
Students that volunteer regularly with Food to Kids are encouraged to bring their friends, recruit members of their sororities and fraternities or bring their teammates.
“I ended up volunteering because Stacey spoke at our sorority one day,” said Ellen Cohen, a sophomore majoring in digital broadcast journalism. “I happened to be free, so I gave it a shot. It was a lot of fun, very rewarding. Now I go whenever I don’t have too much homework for the week.”
For more information about Food to Kids, check their Facebook page, Food 2 Kids Athens, or visit the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia website at www.foodbanknega.org. Students interested in volunteering are invited to participate in any meeting on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. at the Food bank of Northeast Georgia on Mitchell Bridge Road.
“I hope to take over an exec position either my junior or senior year,” said Stacey Cohen. “If we’re able to receive more donations at the food bank, then I think we can really take this program to new heights.”