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Summer Feeding Program Provides Meals for Families in Green Valley School District

No child or family should go hungry in the Green Valley School district, thanks to the combined efforts of area churches participating in the annual summer feeding program. Photo by Laura Weant.

By Sherrie Norris

For many families, summer vacation is a much anticipated break from “the norm” — fun in the sun and a well-deserved respite for school students following a year in the classroom. But, unfortunately for some, the summer months can be less than pleasant. 

When school is not in session, some kids may be missing out on adequate nutrition they would otherwise receive from the cafeteria. Family budgets are squeezed tight and often food purchases do not allow for necessities, let alone extra snacks and treats.

Maleia Moretz and Nora Townsend enjoy helping pack the food boxes at their church. Photo by Sara Critcher Norris.

For the last few years, families with students in the Green Valley School district of Watauga County have not had to worry too much about food insecurity, especially during the summer months, thanks in large part to a seasonal feeding program hosted by several area churches.

High Country Press spoke with Pastor Laura Weant at Bethany Lutheran Church recently and learned that 20 families are being served this year through the initiative, receiving a delivery every other week while the kids are out of school.

It’s a collaborative effort, Weant described, in which Bethany Lutheran serves as the “hub” of activity.

“We are grateful for everyone who donated at our recent fish fry, or through other Green Valley churches, to help make this happen,” Weant said. “We want to thank all those who helped load and unload the truck. Thanks to our partner, ALDI USA in Wilkesboro, for always being so great to work with. And a special thanks to the other area Green Valley churches for working as a team: Blackburns’ Chapel UMC, Howards Creek Church, South Fork Baptist Church, Meat Camp Baptist Church, Rich Mountain Baptist Church, Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church, Bethelview UMC, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Hopewell Community Church and Proffit’s Grove Baptist Church. Thanks also to Todd’s Table for donating produce throughout the summer, and all the other local farmers who contribute, as well. And thanks to Green Valley School for identifying families and bringing all the community partners to the table.  We truly are blessed to be a blessing!”

Weant described how it all comes together. 

“We place an order for the food with Aldi in Wilkesboro, then rent a U-Haul and drive it down there, bring the food to the church and unload it in packing order in the fellowship hall.  Then, our church family comes together to pack the boxes.”

The fellowship hall of Bethany Lutheran Church in Boone serves as home-base for the Green Valley area summer feeding program that delivers food boxes to families in the community. Church members gather to pack boxes that will be delivered every other week throughout the summer.  Photo by Laura Weant.

At that point, Weant added,  members from the other participating churches deliver the food, a process coordinated by Blackburn’s Chapel.  

“Since we house the food at Bethany, the delivery team comes to pick up the food boxes from our basement all throughout the summer,” she said.

 “Inflation has caused the price of groceries to go up, but the giving in donations, and the response to our church’s recent fish fry, increased so much that we have enough to cover the larger grocery bill this year,” she shared.

Local farmers also contribute fresh produce as it becomes available, she added. “We also have the support of a local farm that has donated ground beef, for which we are also very thankful.”

Sarah Norris and Wanda Short are focused on making sure the food boxes are adequately packed for delivery from Bethany Lutheran Church. Photo by Sara Critcher Norris.

 Some years, the number of families receiving food boxes has fluctuated from 18 to 24 — but numbers don’t really count.

“We’ve never had a cutoff,” Weant answered in response to our question about limits. “Whatever the need is, the churches rise to the occasion.”

In the early stages of the program, she said, each church would contribute canned goods to help meet the community needs.

“We had a list and we would sign up for what to bring. But it became easier, especially during the pandemic, for the churches to contribute money and allow us to do the shopping.”

Describing  Aldi  as “always having the best prices overall of any other store,”  the food team developed a relationship with the management there. “And now they know to expect us every year,” Weant said. “They normally do not provide special orders, but they have been really great to work with us and we are very appreciative of their help.”

 Chris Grubb and  Jane Campbell take inventory of the vast amount of staple goods ready for packing and delivery in the church fellowship hall.

The school social worker and counselor identify families who might be in a “food insecure zone,” Weant described. “They send letters home to the families asking if they want to receive food boxes, along with a questionnaire, asking if there are allergies or foods they don’t eat.”

And then, the outreach begins soon after the last bell rings.

What a great way for neighbors to help neighbors – and those on the giving end have said they are blessed, in return. 

 Karen and Chip Wells have a lot to smile about, knowing they are helping kids stay healthy and well-fed during the summer months. Photo by Sara Critcher Norris.

“It’s just been a pleasure to be involved in this ministry as it has evolved into what it is,” said longtime Bethany church member, Karen Critcher. “I know it has been a blessing to the people on the receiving end, but it has been a wonderful experience for those of us who come together, year after year, to help make this happen. We enjoy working together, packing the boxes and getting everything ready, but even more so, we enjoy knowing that what we are doing is helping others. It’s just something special for all of us.”

Katie Grubb, also a member at Bethany, shared: “This ministry in its simplest form is a response to Jesus’ call to feed the hungry. Much more than that, it satisfies our  own spiritual hunger through cooperation with each other and the connections we make with those we serve as we strive to glorify God in our own community.

Another member at Bethany, Kathy Gustaveson echoed what these others said, adding “I feel so passionate about this outreach and am honored to be part of it. Children are so innocent — and the thought of any child going to bed hungry sickens me. Knowing that we are able to provide whole foods — vegetables, fresh produce, eggs and  meat — for these families is so important. And, in turn, they do not have to worry so much about the exorbitant cost of food. It’s more about helping families eat well and take care of themselves.”

And so it goes. Summer in Green Valley, where neighbors care about neighbors.