While Atlanta eyes changing political currents and prepares for an NFL playoff game, children in Southwest Georgia have gone a month without enough to eat.
The governor declared a State of Emergency after tornadoes ripped apart Albany and other towns in the area, but the extent of the damage is not widely known outside the region. Half of Dougherty County is still without power.
Worse still, school has not resumed since Christmas break. That’s more than a scheduling inconvenience and an annoyance for parents. Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District has the highest rates of “food insecurity” in the nation– people, especially children, who go to bed hungry. Around 12,000 students in Dougherty County alone, 80% of the district’s enrollment, qualify for free and reduced lunch. For far too many of these children, the breakfast and lunch they receive at school is most of the nutrition they receive.
Dougherty County School District hasn’t held classes since December 16th. Classes won’t resume until Monday, January 17th. That means children will go a month without the food they need.
Fortunately, there are groups in Southwest Georgia tackling these problems. Second Harvest of South Georgia partners with the USDA to run “kid cafes,” after-school programs where students can get a snack, help with homework, and a hot meal for dinner. On the weekends and in the summer, these kid cafes load a child’s backpack with enough food to last them several days.
This is vitally important to communities and the lives of children. You can see what a crisis the school’s closure poses.
Second Harvest of South Georgia needs the resources to care for children in the meantime. While they usually follow a “congregate feeding” model– the children come to a single location and are provided meals– that’s not possible when the buses they rely on aren’t running. In response, volunteer bus drivers have been organized and the Dougherty County School System has offered the use of their buses. All they need is the resources the state allocates for this purpose to feed these children.
They haven’t gotten it.
Red tape from the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning’s “Bright from the Start” program, which utilizes US Department of Agriculture pass-through funds, has slowed the process down to a crawl. Second Harvest hasn’t been able to establish a timeline yet. “We were looking at an innovative solution bringing in multiple community partners, but we can’t get the answer from the state to make it happen” says Eliza McCall, Chief Marketing Officer for the charity.
Obviously this bureaucratic nightmare needs to be remedied as soon as possible. But in the long-term, “there should be a contingency plan to deal with situations like this” says McCall. Southwest Georgia legislators like Senator Freddie Powell Sims, beloved in Albany and working tirelessly to address the disaster, should be able to find partners in both metro Atlanta and the Republican Party to develop exactly that.
In the meantime, help Second Harvest of Southwest Georgia if you can. Their staff has been moving vigorously to address the situation, even though many of them have been affected by the disaster themselves. The Red Cross has already stumbled across other devastated communities in places like Calhoun, Early, and Miller counties, personal tragedies for hundreds of families that barely make a blip in larger media markets.
The state needs to respond to community groups sooner rather than later. Those of us in Metro Atlanta need to demand it, and then help out as best we can ourselves.