​Summer Meal Program Served 7,800 Meals

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer

The South Cumberland Summer Meal Program served 7,800 meals to about 700 kids this summer. That’s up 2,000 meals from last year. The number of kids served stayed at 700, according to Sarah Hess, a VISTA with AmeriCorps working in the area.
The purpose of the program, which ran from June 5 to July 28 this year, is to be supplemental to local kids during the summer when meals may not be as frequent as those provided at school. There were 20 different sites this year, each of which was run by a member of the community.
“The program is run through the USDA and the Tennessee Department of Human Services coordinates it. Because of the way the grant is set up, the program is funded month-by-month,” said Liz Sirney, Hunger Relief and Literacy Coordinator.
Sirney, a VISTA with AmeriCorps, just finished her second year working with the program. Her role as hunger relief coordinator is to coordinate the meal program.
“AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) members bring their passion and perseverance where the need is greatest: to organizations that help eradicate poverty. An AmeriCorps VISTA member serves as a catalyst for change, living and working alongside community members to advance local solutions,” according to the Corporation for National & Community Service.
Though the program provides local kids with a meal and fellowship, it also provides a space for continued learning throughout the summer.
“A lot of the sites had programming, like the libraries and the summer reading programs. At two of the sites, we piloted this new thing called free play. We bought a bunch of materials—boxes, string, paint—and the kids would come and do whatever they wanted. It’s supposed to be child-led, and the adults aren’t supposed to tell them what to do,” said Sirney.
Sirney said her favorite part about working with the meal program is getting to know and learn from all the kids that come through.
“I don’t usually get to hang out with the kids, so it’s a really big joy to get out of the office and see them,” she said. “They’re always so excited and sweet and so happy to be there. That’s definitely my favorite part.”
Another of the biggest pluses that comes from the meal program is an increased sense of community.
“It’s inspiring to see the type of care this community has for each other,” she said. “I think people who otherwise wouldn’t really interact are able to meet through this program. Summertime can be kind of a drag for a lot of kids, especially in this rural area, so this provides something fun and something for them to do to learn throughout the summer. It’s really great to see the community supporting itself and supporting each other and filling in where there are gaps.”