Jun. 8—A group of children run down to greet the MUST Summer Lunch car as volunteers open the trunk and begin passing out bags of food and hygiene products. For children who face food insecurity and don't have access to school lunches over the summer, MUST Summer Lunch provides bags with ten drinks, snacks, five breakfasts and five lunches each Tuesday from June 1 until July 29.
Every summer for the past 27 years, MUST Ministries, an organization that seeks to address the basic needs of families and children in counties around metro Atlanta, has passed out breakfast and lunch to children in the surrounding area. So far, MUST Summer Lunch serves seven counties around metro Atlanta, Katy Ruth Camp, director of marketing and public relations, said.
MUST Ministries and the churches they partner with are working to feed around 5,200 children 540,000 meals this summer, Camp said in an email. MUST Ministries and churches like First Presbyterian Church in Marietta are accepting food and cash donations. Volunteers package the items into bags for the kids and drive to designated areas around Marietta to hand them out.
Some MUST Summer Lunch churches function as a drive-thru where people come to the distribution location and pick up items, while other spots, like First Presbyterian Church, have volunteers drive routes to bring bags to the children, Marketing Manager Justin Deese said.
When the volunteers drive to their location, they honk the car horn and wait for the children to come running. Flags on either side of the car identify themselves as volunteers for MUST Ministries. The children hold out their arms and volunteers hand them bags of lunch and breakfast.
"There's just so much need, and with the rise in inflation, food costs and gas prices and those things," Deese said. "It's just, this is so needed, and I wish it wasn't. We don't want to exist, I hate that we have to."
Deese said he hopes that Summer Lunch helps parents learn more about the services MUST Ministries offers by building trust with the families.
"People want to feel like you're trustworthy, and you're not just like, it's not some kind of scam," he said.
First Presbyterian Church has been participating in the program for nearly 20 years, Rev. Joe Evans said. Most of the volunteers are members of the church.
"A lot of the people who we're helping are those who, because we're providing food, they have extra money to pay the rent, or the light bill," Evans said.
Volunteer Eleanor Knox used to make sandwiches for the kids before they switched to exclusively pre-packaged items, and now she helps deliver the bundles. She said she prefers delivering the bags because it's fun to see the kids run up to the car.
For the past few years, due to COVID-19 concerns, volunteers weren't sure about giving food directly to the children. They handed out big bags of food with both perishable and non-perishable items instead of individual lunch bags, but the large bags were difficult for the children to carry, Ann Stoskopf, site coordinator for MUST Ministries said.
"This year, everything is non-perishable, and it's a lot lighter," Stoskopf said. "Kids can carry it easier."
So far, they are running short on donations and entrees for the children. As of June 7, they didn't have enough for next week's run yet, Stoskopf said.
"We need everything. We need breakfast, lunch and snacks," she said. "This room used to be full on the sides with boxes of donations. We just don't have that anymore."
MUST Ministries is in need of funding and donations to continue the Summer Lunch program this summer, Camp said in an email. For more information, visit mustministries.org/summer-lunch.