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A dollar goes a long way for The Lunch Box program

Deborah Peterson • Mar 1, 2018 at 10:30 AM

Many people have fond childhood memories of toting their favorite lunch boxes to school filled with good, healthy food. Unfortunately, more than 13 million children in the United States are among those whose families don’t regularly have enough food to eat, much less a lunch box to carry it in. Thanks to federally-assisted meal programs, low-cost or free lunches are available to children each school day. In Hawkins County, 75-90 percent of the children in school rely on these lunches. But what happens to these children during the summer?

Thanks to The Lunch Box program of Hawkins County, children can continue to receive a nutritious meal each weekday during June and July. As welcome as “The Magic School Bus,” four retired school buses arrive at various locations loaded down with healthy meals. The buses have been renovated into mobile cafeterias, complete with dining tables. Once parked, the children board the bus to eat their meals. Each bus is chaperoned by a trained bus driver, volunteers and program staff. After they are finished, the bus moves on to the next specified location. Last summer, over 13,000 meals were served in Hawkins County.

The Lunch Box is sponsored by Of One Accord Ministry in Rogersville, which also provides several food pantries and a medical mission in Hawkins County. Program director Rita Jones said that The Lunch Box ministry grew out of concern for the children who were not getting enough to eat during the summer months.

“We knew that there was a serious need in our community,” she said. They received a federal grant through the Department of Human Services in 2005 and served the first meals in 2006.

The meals are prepared at First Freewill Baptist Church in Church Hill and at the Shepherd’s Center in Rogersville. Volunteers pack up the hot meals and a licensed bus driver takes them to several locations in various neighborhoods at pre-arranged times. Youth, from elementary to high school ages, are ushered inside to the tables and given plenty of time to eat their meal. When finished, volunteers clean up and prepare for the next stop.

Although the food is subsidized by the USDA Summer Food Service Program, there are many other expenses including the maintenance and fuel of the buses. One bus currently needs new tires and all buses continually need one repair or another.

To raise funds for the ministry, Lunch Box program volunteers host the Church Hill Lunch Box Annual Dollar Auction each year. The next auction will be held at 7 p.m., March 16 at the Clay Lodge in Church Hill.

Jacquelyn Crawford, the Church Hill coordinator, explained how the dollar auction works. Everyone can purchase as many $1 tickets as they like. When an item comes up for auction that they are interested in, they put their tickets in a basket that is handed around and a ticket is then drawn with the winner’s number.

“This is a really fun fundraiser, because you don’t have to spend a lot of money and still can win, and it’s all going to a good cause,” Jacquelyn said. Auctioned items include tickets for local attractions and theme parks, merchandise, services and gift certificates. Donations of prizes are currently being accepted.

You can help feed a hungry child during the summer. To learn more about how to volunteer with The Lunch Box program, to make a donation for the auction or to the program, or to request The Lunch Box bus come to your Hawkins County neighborhood, contact Rita at (423) 921-8044 or email her at RitaJonesOOA@gmail.com. You can also contact Jacquelyn at ChurchHillLunchBox@yahoo.com or go to the Hawkins County Lunch Box Program Facebook page for updates.

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