PEOPLE often see America as the land of the plenty, but for many families this is far from their reality. Savannah’s Food Industry doesn’t end with fresh seafood and local beer built to pair.
Hunger is something that more than 48 million Americans deal with daily. That’s 1 in 7 Americans and over 12 million families.
To bring it closer to home, 1 in 5 Georgians do not know where their next meal is coming from — a bigger percentage than the national average.
And to bring it even closer, 28 percent or 1 in 4 children in Georgia live in food insecure households, which is well above the national average. This means that over 700,000 children in Georgia have been without access to food, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
Located in our own backyard, America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia has been serving the underprivileged for over 30 years, and has seen tremendous growth in the size of its operations; specifically over the last 14 years.
Executive Director Mary Jane Crouch has been working with Second Harvest food bank since 2002, and she has played a major role in getting our community involved in helping serve those who need it the most.
In fact, since she stepped into her role, Mary Jane and her staff have more than tripled the amount of food they distribute into our community, from three million pounds of food per year, to last year which was over 13 million pounds!
I had a chance to sit down with her, so she could shed some light on how she believes this organization will continue to grow and support those who truly need it.
“Our community now has much more awareness of our hunger problem, and the need for these programs. So we’ve tried to step up what we do, and through the generosity of our community, we’ve been able to do so,” she says.
Through USDA funding, donations, and food drives, The Second Harvest Food Bank has been able to create an infrastructure built to sustain its rapid growth, and even disaster relief. Serving mainly as a middleman between the organizations who want to donate large amounts of food and the ones who deliver the goods to the people, Second Harvest has widened its reach in order to maximize its potential.
Their next tier consists of programs built to pair with Savannah’s already existing infrastructure in order to directly touch the underprivileged.
For example their “Brown Bags for the Elderly” program is dedicated towards senior citizens who are living on Social Security, and at the end of the month are sometimes choosing between their medication and food on the table.
Second Harvest gets volunteers, every third Saturday, to pack bags of groceries that are delivered to the senior citizens. Their Mobile Food Pantry has a similar structure, as they deliver groceries to rural areas further away from the city, who might not have the same resources close to home. These programs are the tools that will help shorten the gap and reduce the ill effects of poverty.
Their largest initiative by far is their Kid’s Cafe Program which was founded right here in Savannah in 1989, after two children were discovered in a community center searching for food. It is now reportedly the third largest such children’s initiative in the United States.
During the school year, Kid’s Cafe serves thirty two hundred meals at 42 different sites each day. In the summer months, since kids do not have the opportunity for a free meal, Kid’s Cafe serves breakfast and lunch at 52 different sites which totals to over seven thousand meals each day.[image-3]
This program doesn’t stop at the food. Kid’s Cafe is also a tutoring program that partners with 21st Century, the Boys and Girls, as well as other after school programs, designed to help kids do well in school.
“We have to break the cycle of poverty and help children while they are young” Mary Jane says.
“There’s a direct link between hunger, academic achievement, and breaking the cycle of poverty. So being a link towards helping with those problems has always been our goal.”
I wanted to know how we, as a community, could be more active in helping Second Harvest Food Bank continue to grow and have the resources they need to help those who need it most.
“We are always in need of volunteers because there is always work to do. Packing bags of groceries, tutoring the children, stocking shelves, sorting food, organizing food drives, and attending the events,” says Mary Jane.
Second Harvest is currently raising money in order to purchase a building dedicated to the volunteering portion of their operation, so all year round there is a need for our help. Speaking of events, Second Harvest Food Bank is having their annual “Jewels and Jeans” fundraiser on Thursday April 21 from 7-8 p.m.
They have partnered with 15 different local restaurants to provide food for the event. Live music, a silent auction, a raffle, and some delicious food.
Best of all, you don’t have to dress up. You can show up in your jeans, as you enjoy a great atmosphere and get a chance to see just how massive their operation is.
It’s organizations like this that continue to push the collective forward, even if they are not in the spotlight. Food is something we all can relate to, no matter your race or ethnicity. Not all of us however, can relate to being hungry every day.
It is extremely important for us to see the teams that work behind the scenes, in order for us to be better individuals for our community.
Actively participating in moving our collective forward is something we need to do together, in order for our future to remain bright. Help us all stir the pot, so we can feed our souls.
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