By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 23, 2015
ATLANTA—Schoolteacher Carol Hunt worried about her students, inside the classroom and out.
Some 20 years ago, she had the thought of putting together a simple bagged lunch when her school’s cafeteria was closed for the summer and delivering the lunches to students herself.
“I knew they didn’t have food during the summer months,” said Hunt, now retired.
The staff at MUST Ministries, where Hunt is a longtime volunteer, made the lunches. And Hunt drove to where students were in need to hand out the two-dozen lunch sacks.
Today, some 6,500 of these lunches are distributed by MUST Ministries daily. But even that effort isn’t enough. There are an estimated 254,000 students in the area served by MUST who rely on free and reduced price lunches during the school year. The faith-based nonprofit expects to serve lunch number 2 million during this hot season.
“We’re not hitting everybody we’d like to,” said Kaye Cagle, the nonprofit’s director of marketing.
The 10-week effort serves children in eight counties: Douglas, Paulding, Pickens, Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, Cherokee and Bartow. The Summer Lunch Program began in 1995.
MUST is just one of the many agencies targeting the kids out for the summer. Researchers have said proper nutrition during the summer months is as important as during the school year. It helps children to return ready to learn.
Cathedral summer goal: 8,000 sandwiches
On Monday, July 13, the cafeteria tables at Christ the King Cathedral School were heavy with loaves of bread and the fixings that make up the ham and cheese sandwiches. Everybody was there, from retirees to grade school students. The air conditioning was a respite from the 90s outside.
Sitting at one table was a retired physician, who asked that his name not be used. It’s a room he’s familiar with. He attended three grades at the school, pointing out where there used to a stage. He’s no stranger to the effort.
“I don’t think it’s an option so much. It is expected,” said the man, his sunglasses hanging from his green golf shirt, about preparing food for the hungry.
Efforts like this weren’t part of his education decades ago at the school. Now, the room is full of youngsters actively serving. He hopes these projects give the students “a conscience that helps the poor,” he said.
The cathedral community will host eight afternoons of sandwich-making this summer.
This project helps not only by providing a healthy meal but also by letting the students receiving the lunch know others care about their well-being, said Bernadette Flowers, the associate director of parish life.
Members of the cathedral are encouraged to get involved with service ministries as much as they can, she said. “You don’t let it stop here,” she said.
In addition to the sandwiches, volunteers were filling tubs full of snack bags. These bags are given to people who are hungry and stop at the parish office for help.
“We don’t have a soup kitchen, but the snack bags will get you to your next hot meal,” Flowers said.
That day’s goal was to make nearly 1,000 sandwiches for MUST Ministries. The goal was easily met as the supply of sandwich bags and slices of cheese dwindled before the enthusiasm for making them ran out. When the cathedral parish community embraced this effort five years ago, the goal was to make a few hundred sandwiches. The community this summer challenged itself to make 8,000 of them.
Three rising sophomores at Atlanta’s St. Pius X High School worked together at a table.
“Somehow in half an hour, we make 1,000 sandwiches. It’s really cool when you think about that number of sandwiches and how many people will have food,” said Jessica Tardy, 15, an altar server at the cathedral.
Tardy persuaded classmates Mary Hays, 15, and Kaylee Buckley, 15, to help. The project also counts toward the school’s required service projects.
The sandwiches, each secured in a plastic bag, were taken the next day to a church. From there, volunteers drove the food to apartment complexes, mobile home parks and other places of great need. Students receive a bag lunch of a sandwich, juice or water, along with either an apple or another fruit and a bag of pretzels.
Hunt, who wears a large cross around her neck, is a parishioner at the cathedral. She is an associate with the Sisters of Mercy. During the afternoon, dressed in blue jeans and a black T-shirt, her white hair in a bun, she pitched in where she was needed. She wanted the attention on the young people who make the sandwiches, not on what she started. She said, “It’s just the little things that make such a big difference.”