Education

When Bibb students go on break, what happens to kids who rely on school for free meals?

Walking to grocery store only one way Howard student helps out her mom

Howard sophomore Hailey Hall walks to and from grocery store several days a week while taking care of her mother who is on dialysis.
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Howard sophomore Hailey Hall walks to and from grocery store several days a week while taking care of her mother who is on dialysis.

Walking to the grocery store several times a week is a normal part of Hailey Hall’s routine.

On each trip, the 10th-grader at Howard High School totes back home with her a few light items, mostly microwavable meals, to eat with her mother.

A frozen sweet and sour chicken and rice bowl, a hamburger pizza and mint flavored chewing gum are among items she bought from Kroger on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard one recent afternoon.

The 16-year-old takes the bus to school and uses public transportation when she has to.

Her mornings start at 5 a.m. and, depending on the day’s activities, sometimes end late at night.

“I help my mom in the morning time because she has dialysis five days a week,” Hall said. “Most of the time, when I’m out of school, I will go with her to the dialysis center and I would just sit and wait for her to get done.”

Like all Bibb County school students, Hall eats breakfast and lunch at school at no cost. But during holidays such as spring and summer breaks, meals aren’t guaranteed.

Almost every Bibb school has a church-supported Backpack Ministry Program that provides meals for students to take home over breaks, Bibb County schools spokeswoman Stephanie Hartley said.

But others need more help to make it through the holiday.

Food stamps run out fast, especially in food deserts, which are places where it is difficult to find affordable and quality fresh food.

Midtown Macon became a food desert when the Kroger on Pio Nono Avenue closed in April 2018. Telegraph reporter Samantha Max set out on foot to find groceries near the now-vacant supermarket.

Hundreds of students at Bibb County schools are in need of help with getting food to eat while school is out.

“A lot of children get their best meals at school: breakfast and lunch,” said June O’Neal, executive director for The Mentor’s Project, which serves more than 320 students.

The Mentor’s Project was created in 1990 as a dropout prevention program which placed successful adults with at-risk students.

Nearly every student in the program lives below the poverty line and in a single-female guardian household.

At the project’s headquarters in the Wells Fargo building downtown, O’Neal keeps small closets full of necessities that many of the students whom the project serves need. Deodorant, toothpaste, toilet paper and paper towels are in a tiny closet beside a small office where donated nonperishable food items are stored. Another closet is used to store an assortment of clothes and backpacks.

The items are for parents and children, whether they’re in The Mentor’s Project or not, who are in a pinch and unable to afford those necessities.

Two freezers in the office are packed full of frozen meats and meals, but it still is not enough.

This year, there is a particularly strong need for more donations since much of the food and resources from the project’s usual sources have been used to help victims of the recent tornadoes that swept across Georgia, O’Neal said.

What’s more, “we’ve never had so many children who have medically fragile parents or guardians,” she said. “One had brain surgery last week. … We’ve got two that are facing amputation, lupus, I could just go on. … We worry about those families having food all the time.”

O’Neal and her staff of four others encourage families to pick up food if they are able. If not, she and her team will take them to the student’s house.

“Just because you live in poverty doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have food you like,” O’Neal said, adding that she tries to encourage donors to “give people what you would eat.”

Chips, fruit, peanut butter, jelly, bread, ground beef, hot dogs, venison still in the processor’s packaging, spaghetti, Ragu, Parmesan, Little Debbie snacks, macaroni, instant potatoes, oatmeal, Pop-Tarts and juice boxes are among suggested items to donate, O’Neal said. Gift certificates to grocery stores or fast food restaurants also would be useful.

“We try to get the students (food) at least three to four times a week,” said Tracy Allen, who also works for The Mentor’s Project. “If they’re sick and they can’t work and the food stamps are gone, we’re sending another box over there.”

For more information on how to help, call June O’Neal at 478-765-8624 or email her at june.oneal@bcsdk12.net.

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