The Episcopal Church of the Ascension Outreach Committee responds to a serious need for some students in the community: hunger.
The committee is currently supporting a total of 16 students at Vestavia Hills Elementary East and Cahaba Heights Elementary by asking school counselors to discreetly put food bags in their backpacks once a week.
“Although we are in a wealthy part of town, there are still people who live in poverty and are hungry,” said Jack Alvey, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension.
Alvey came up with the idea for the program while attending a Vestavia Hills leadership meeting, he said. Members were discussing different ways to address hunger in the community and one such solution was to partner with local schools to identify food insecure children, Alvey said.
“Leadership Vestavia Hills didn’t feel like it had the bandwidth to run the program,” Alvey said. “I just took this idea with me to an outreach meeting at Ascension and the management team loved it and just ran with it.”
The program began as a trial for the last nine weeks of school of the year, said Anna Colvin, a member of the outreach committee for the Episcopal Church of Ascension.
The committee worked with counselors to identify students with food insecurity using questionnaires and using a bit of intuition, Colvin said.
“Advisors already had an idea in mind of who would be the right candidate for this,” Colvin said. “They have kids who come in asking for snacks every day, so they already knew some that would be a good fit for the program.”
Money for the program was raised through the church’s Food Truck Festival which raised $5,000, Colvin said.
“We had a huge community turnout,” Colvin said. “We had more than 500 people and it was mostly people from the region who came. It was a great way to come together as a community and that’s how we fund this program.
The committee provides students with nine foods in non-transparent bags, she said, such as a protein shake that does not require refrigeration, Chef Boyardee canned meals, mac and cheese, peanut butter crackers, beef jerky, protein bar, breakfast bar, trail mix and applesauce.
The committee then delivers the bags of food to the schools reception, Colvin said. Counselors then take the bags and discreetly put them in students’ backpacks when classrooms are empty so they are not inconvenienced, she said.
Colvin said the committee will also send several bags home if a food-insecure student has a sibling.
She said schools expressed their appreciation for the program and even gave the committee advice on how to better serve students. For example, schools had suggestions for how certain items should be packaged. “So far it’s been very well received,” Colvin said.
“It’s unfortunate, obviously, that there’s a need, but we’re happy to be able to fill that need,” Colvin said. “Our goal is to be in every school and really involve the community…We’re also working with the counselor at Dolly Ridge (elementary) to get them involved as well.”