By Kaye Cagle
“The outpouring of love and concern for our youngest at-risk clients has been overwhelming,” according to MUST President and CEO Rev. Dr. Ike Reighard. “The crisis we faced when the health department told us we could no longer accept homemade sandwiches for Summer Lunch created a difficult situation, but we have been blessed with community support.”
According to MUST leadership, the demand to purchase sandwiches created a radical change in the Summer Lunch model and became a very expensive venture. “We quickly realized the cost of purchasing sandwiches could be about $225,000, but what we didn’t anticipate was a sharp decline in the rest of the sack lunch content.
“When volunteers stopped making sandwiches, most stopped creating the lunches entirely and that left us with purchasing juice boxes, fruit cups, pretzels, granola bars and other items to complete the meal,” he explained. “That deficit about doubled our cost to $2 a meal. Suddenly, we were faced with a huge obstacle in addition to renting refrigerated storage, getting truck drivers, paying for fuel and so on.”
To date, the ministry is almost to the goal of covering all expenses and donors continue to give. “It’s a miracle, really,” Reighard said. “With the money given, supplies donated and valiant volunteers preparing and distributing lunches, we are going to be able to complete the program this year and plan new ways to accomplish this again next summer.”
Even with new legislation being introduced in Georgia to help charities be able to provide food to those in need, the MUST team is not sure their original model used for 23 years will be fully restored. “We’ll have to wait and see what the legislation will allow. We are encouraged by how many legislators and state leaders have called to offer help and support for what we are trying to accomplish.”
In the meantime, thousands of children are being served during summer break and many rely on the sack lunch as their only means of food. “We know how desperate food insecurity is in our service area and we are committed to feeding these precious at-risk children,” he stated.
All food for Summer Lunch has now been purchased or donated for the last weeks of the program, so MUST is asking donors to keep bringing food for the MUST Neighborhood Pantry program in the public schools. “We have 33 school food pantries and these same children we feed through Summer Lunch come to our pantries with their families to receive groceries. We need cereal, canned chicken, chili, beef stew and jelly most,” Reighard said.
In MUST’s service area alone, 475,000 are food insecure. “Our goal is to do more, feed more, help more,” Reighard said, “and we’re committed to finding a way to make that happen. Summer Lunch was in a critical situation this year, but our supporters helped make it possible despite the last-minute setback.
“We know God’s heart for those in poverty and we are deeply grateful He has guided so many to help with this program.” Reighard concluded, “Restaurants and certified kitchens called to offer space to prepare sandwiches, groups called to volunteer, donors made financial contributions, individuals called to deliver the meals and work in our host sites. Our staff worked day and night to coordinate the program. The media and our media sponsor, Fox 5, effectively communicated the need. Together, it has been an amazing effort.”