Can you imagine eating lunch on Friday afternoon and knowing that you will not have anything to eat again until Monday morning? Unfortunately, this feeling of intense huger is not at all imaginary for many kids living in Gwinnett County, it is a reality. It is a reality that Cheri Loy is determined to put to an end.
Loy and Stacy Head started the Bags of Hope program this past November. Bags of Hope is a program that sends home bags of food for Lawrenceville Elementary children who would otherwise go hungry over the weekend.
“My cohort Stacy came up with the name, we wanted to choose something fitting,” Loy said. “We hope to give these kids hope. Our biggest motivator is that we followed our hearts and these kids are number one in our books. We just wanted to help them and the parents too.”
Loy and Head are both special education teachers at Lawrenceville Elementary. They both live in the Hamilton Mill area of Dacula, and carpool to work together. It was during a discussion on the way to work one day that these ladies recognized that their students were struggling with hunger, and they were determined to find a way to help.
“To be honest I can’t even remember how the subject came up, but we started talking,” Loy explained. “We both found out that some of our kids were not eating on the weekend. They did not want to go home on Friday, and we noticed kids running off the bus just to get to breakfast on Monday. We wanted to do something to help these kids out.”
The kids that Loy and Head help might be foster kids, some live in hotels, and some are doubled up in homes living with aunts and uncles. A lot of these kids are considered homeless. The ladies started to put their heads together, and did some research about bag programs.
“We found that brown bag programs were starting to pop up all over the place,” Loy explained. “So we just started asking for donations. We had some churches that partnered with us, and donations started pouring in.”
When Loy and Head started the program in November, they had identified 10 kids that were in need. They quickly learned that there were a lot more kids that could use their help and the program grew in order to fit the need.
“We had 10 kids that were considered homeless around the time of Thanksgiving, and we sent them home with bags,” Loy said “Currently we are up to 65 bags that are being sent home. As the needs grew our storage had to grow, and fortunately the donations grew as well.”
The Bags of Hope program gives the children recyclable bags with a paper sack inside. They fill them with two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, and snacks for the weekend. Monthly they provide them with bigger things like rice, beans, hamburger helper, peanut butter and other staples.
“A regular weekend bag may consist of ravioli, beefaroni, macaroni and cheese, a soup, a vegetable, two fruits, granola bars, oatmeal, cereal, shelf milk, and juice just so they can have food over the weekend,” Loy explains. “If there are three kids in the family that go to our school, we send three bags home. And if we know that there is a sibling that is younger or a sibling that is in middle school or high school, we always try to throw in a couple of extra things in there.”
One of the challenges that Loy and Head face with the Bags of Hope program is the time it takes. Mandy Goodwin helps by acting as their contact person. She contacts churches and local businesses for support. They also have had a group of ladies that come in from a local church to pack bags, go through the lists, make sure they do not missing anyone and that every bag is full. However, this program is very labor intensive and they need more help.
“We are hoping for additional help because this is one of our biggest challenges,” Loy said. “Stacy and I work a lot on our own time, and we love to because that is where our heart is, but it has been a huge undertaking with a lot of physical work, and we teach at the same time.“
Another concern for this program is what will be done for these kids over the summertime. They are dedicated to planning long term goals for the Bags of Hope program by looking at summer options, getting the word out about the need for donations and trying to find corporate sponsors.
“We want to make sure that we continue to get the word out so our shelves stay stocked for our kids,” Loy said. “Our biggest worry right now is the summer time, and what are we going to do to help them long term.”
You can find out more about the Bags of Hope program and how you can help by clicking here. Some of their current needs include fruit cups, canned meats, ravioli, mac and cheese, boxed milk, juice boxes, granola bars, raisins, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, pasta, spaghetti sauce, rice, canned vegetables, beans.
“Donations are a big need,” Loy said. “We would love any donations; monetary or food items. These kids are really counting on us.”
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