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Green Valley Community Kicks Off Summer Feeding Program This Week

Volunteers return to the fellowship hall of Bethany Lutheran Church following their shopping trip to Aldi for staple goods to include in the food boxes for this summer’s feeding program. Photo submitted.

By Sherrie Norris

As the 2023-24 academic year came to a close recently for students in the area, excitement was in the air for many. But, for some youngsters, and in particular their parents, concern about nutritious breakfasts and lunches weighed heavily on their minds. With schools out for the summer, those meals might be missed at home, where for a number of local families, budgets are already compromised.

For those in Watauga County’s Green Valley School district, however, some of that concern can be alleviated as the community’s much-anticipated summer feeding program is kicking into gear once again.

Hosted by several local churches in and around the Green Valley community, the program provides food boxes which are prepared and delivered every other week to several families.

As a local outreach with far-reaching effects, the program is a joint effort between several churches, businesses and individuals who come together this time every year to make sure school students and their families are fed during the summer break. 

Pastor Laura Weant at Bethany Lutheran Church shared with High Country Press that 22 families will be served this year through the initiative, receiving a total of five deliveries each of food boxes during summer months.  

Partnering with Green Valley School to help identify families who might be food insecure is paramount to the program’s success, Weant stated.

“Heather Holbrook, the GVS social worker, and Sandra Ruppert, the GVS guidance counselor, identify families and send out surveys each year to see which families would like to sign up,” Weant explained. “The forms they send out ask about allergies and any foods the family doesn’t eat. And then, Heather compiles them into a spreadsheet.”

The process is handled with respect and dignity for the families they serve, Weant emphasized. “We try to keep things as confidential as possible, so only the two pastors coordinating delivery see the whole list of partiipants, and the information given to those delivering is very limited. We’ve been doing this so long, some families have developed close ties with the people who deliver to them, and keep in touch with each other throughout the year.”

As a good central site, and with ample storage space, Bethany Lutheran serves as the point of contact for volunteers within the other churches who are helping with pick-up and deliver, Weant stated.

Having enjoyed a good working relationship with Aldi in Wilkesboro for several years, and in the past able to make one big trip at the beginning of the summer, parishioners this year are making separate shopping trips on different days to Aldi stores in Wilkesboro and Lenoir, “in stages,” Weant explained. “There have been some changes in the way the store is able to help us this year, so were doing much like we used to do in the olden days. We’ve been doing this (program) for so many years, that we’ve done it every which way — from accepting donations of pantry items from all the churches and putting them together, to shopping the aisles as a group, to placing orders.” 

These items will go a long way to make sure local students and their families receive adequate nourishment during the summer. Photo submitted.

The feeding program also receives produce from Todd’s Table, associated with Blackburn’s Chapel, and other local farmers, and a large donation of frozen ground beef from an anonymous local farmer.

This year’s church participation includes: Bethany Lutheran taking care of the shopping, packing and housing of the food. Blackburn’s Chapel is coordinating the deliveries, and their partner ministry, Todd’s Table, is providing produce. 

Other churches participating by helping deliver food boxes and with financial donations include the following: Bethelview Methodist, Tabernacle Baptist, Howard’s Creek Baptist, Rich Mountain Baptist, Proffit’s Grove Baptist, Mt. Pleasant Methodist, Meat Camp Baptist, Hopewell Community Church and South Fork Baptist.
“We are so blessed to have so many Green Valley churches working together to support this ministry,” Weant said. 

As the major contributor to the summer feeding program, Bethany Lutheran hosts an annual fish fry each spring to help supplement the costs, as well as help with other community mission projects throughout the year. 

“Despite the forecast for thunderstorms all over the county on the day of our fundraiser this year, the storms held off in our area, and we had a great event,” Weant shared. “We served 397 plates, including the 50 volunteers who worked the event. This fundraiser is for various outreach ministries at Bethany, but the largest portion goes to the summer feeding program.  It really is a community event, and would not be possible without the donations from so many community partners. We would like to thank Mike’s Inland Seafood for letting us buy flounder at cost; Hollar and Greene Produce for donations of over 500 potatoes. Lett-Us Produce for donations of cabbage and carrots for the slaw. Coca-Cola Consolidated for donating over 430 drinks. Garret Norris/ Norris Plumbing Company for donating canopies, time and supplies for needed plumbing work before the event; Thrivent Financial, for the seed money to purchase To-Go containers and Facebook ads, and donations of gift cards or goods from: Sam’s, Walmart, Publix, Ingles, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, and Lowes Foods.”

And a big thanks, Weant added, to Green Valley School for identifying families and bringing all the community partners to the table.  

Long-time program volunteer, Wanda Short shared: “It brings so much joy to my heart to be a part of the summer feeding program. I think the feeding program is one of the most worthwhile things that our church participates in. When we were shopping (at Aldi), a lady stopped me and asked if we were shopping for a church. I told her about the summer feeding program. She said that it was such a blessing to her to see us doing God’s work and that the children would be blessed.”

Karen Wells, when asked what drew her to join the Outreach Committee when she joined Bethany, said:  “My friend and neighbor, Kathy, suggested I come to a meeting and it was a great opportunity to meet members of the church and to see all the amazing services they provide for the community.  Working with this committee has been a heartfelt experience to be able to help others who are in need, and enjoy the fellowship with the church, as well as the community.”  She also said, of their recent trip to Aldi, in which the volunteers loaded up four vehicles, “Today at Aldi a gentleman walked past while we were loading the truck and said, “Wow, looks like you guys are feeding an army!”  and I replied, “Yes, we are, in a way!

Summer in the rural community of Green Valley is more than just a time for fun in the sun — it’s also about neighbors helping neighbors. 

Karen and Chip Wells unload food from their truck after their trip with several other Bethany members to Aldi in Wilkesboro. Photo submitted.