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UNG to help feed thousands of children this summer

May 21, 2018

Dr. Pamela Elfenbein, professor of sociology and human services at the University of North Georgia (UNG), held her breath as Danna Foster spoke about the large, almost unimaginable number of meals the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) has been asked to supply this summer.

"What's been requested is 78,000 meals," said Foster, director of the SFSP at UNG. "But that number may be closer to 35,000 to 40,000 in actuality."

After exhaling, Elfenbein looked with determination at her three team members and started to plot a plan to accomplish the goal at hand. The program will begin May 29.

It's nothing new for Elfenbein. For the past seven years, she and her team of staff and UNG students in the Human Services Delivery and Administration (HSDA) program have been feeding thousands of children from low-income areas in the northeast Georgia region every summer.

"Since this program started in 2012, we've served well over 100,000 meals in total," Elfenbein said.

Foster said last summer 29,000 meals were served in Forsyth, Gwinnett, Hall, Lumpkin, and Oconee counties. It averages to about 600 meals for 42 days.

In the past the Summer Food program served shelf-stable and cold foods to ensure low-income students who are food insecure receive a nutritious lunch when school is not in session. But this year, the children will have a treat.

"We are doing hot meals this year," Elfenbein said with a smile. "That means they can have hamburgers and hot dogs and food like that three days a week."

The Georgia Mountain Food Bank (GMFB) also will supply 25,000 pounds of supplemental foods to the children and their families, and fresh produce once a week in Forsyth County through its Fresh Express program, she added. GMFB is the program's supplemental food force while Forsyth County School Nutrition acts as the main food vendor.

Valerie Bowers, the director of the nutrition program at Forsyth County Schools, explained all of the meals, including the new the hot meals, meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.

"The kids look forward to having a good variety of food," said Bowers, whose school system also provides a bus to bring meals to children in three low-income areas in Forsyth County. "The kids come and congregate in the parking lot and sit and wait for the bus to arrive with the meal."

While a bus will deliver meals to some sites in Forsyth County, UNG students will transport meals to almost 20 sites in the northeast Georgia region, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lanier, Gainesville Parks and Recreation summer camps, STEPS2College and Summer Scholars at UNG, and area schools churches and summer camps, to name a few. More importantly, each host sites is ‘open sites’, and serve any child who comes to the site, not only those enrolled in their programs.

Three categories of community partnerships are key to the UNG Summer Food Service Program. First is partnerships with groups such as Georgia Mountain Food Bank, Forsyth County Schools Nutrition Program, Cumming First United Methodist Church, Legacy Link-Area Agency on Aging, the United Way of Hall County, Georgia Department of Early Care & Learning, Georgia Department of Education, and meal service host sites throughout the region.

Second is the UNG HSDA students, who spend their summer session working with the program and gaining real-world experience. Fourteen UNG students have registered to help with the program, which is a record number, Elfenbein said.

Third are UNG and local businesses that provide facilities, delivery vehicles, and milk coolers.

"We only had second-semester students early on, but now we have third- and fourth-semester students signing up," Elfenbein said. "And we have one master's level student."

Heather Morris, a senior majoring in HSDA from Gainesville, Georgia, has spent a few summers with the program. In fact, she is set to graduate in August 2018, with hopes of being accepted into graduate school and continue her work with the program.

"You are on the front lines and it changes your perspective about food insecurity," she said. "And it drives home that I can make a change and fix things."

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