By Guest Blogger Caren Grice
When Marty Tennille talks about feeding children, it’s crystal clear that she and her husband Ben are doing exactly what God has called them to do.
One Sunday morning in 2013, the congregation at Centenary United Methodist church was challenged by their minister to do something about the hunger in our community and the Tennilles got to work. After much research, and learning about how hunger is addressed in different parts of the US, they formed H.O.P.E. of Winston-Salem – Help Our People Eat. With the help and support of many and a bright green food truck that plays a kicky theme song to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”, H.O.P.E. delivers healthy bagged lunches to well over 1,000 children in our community every Sunday year-round. Also, delivering fresh produce for families with accompanying recipes, socks, t-shirts…anything that might support the 40 “food deserts” in our community. But the food comes first.
When Marty and Ben Tennille were challenged that Sunday, it wasn’t just the issue of childhood hunger that spoke to their hearts, but the results of the hunger. “If a child doesn’t eat on Sunday, he can’t learn on Monday. Monday is when new material is presented at school, but if he hasn’t eaten for a day or two, it’s Wednesday before he can learn. Young toddlers’ brains won’t develop as they should without food, so they start life behind and remain behind.”
As they learned more, it became evident that by delivering meals and fresh produce, they were filling bellies and changing lives. If they can help change diets when children are young and cultivate a taste for fruits and vegetables by the age of 6 or 8, the potential for changing their long-term health and future is palpable. Current research shows that by 2025, diabetes care will cost NC 17 billion dollars a year. With 54% of the students in Forsyth County in the free and reduced lunch program and North Carolina in 2nd place, behind Louisiana, for preschoolers who are at risk of hunger, 17 billion is a very real number and something has to change.
And so, every Sunday, in each bagged lunch is a turkey sandwich or chicken wrap, yogurt or a piece of fresh fruit and a homemade dessert like Black Bean Brownies or Apple Oatmeal Squares that are nutritionally sound and have been evaluated for taste and appeal. The Tennilles want to “stick to food and do it well” and then meet other needs. Food done well – check!
The way Marty sees it, our community, as a whole, works as a team. “On a Saturday as you pack lunches, you might find yourself working with a three-year-old and her family, a 93-year-old who still wants to do something to help others, people from all faiths and cultures, and even families who will receive the food the next day.” H.O.P.E. Board Meetings are held at the food service sites so the community has the opportunity to attend and have input. “It gives residents a chance to help explain needs and craft the program to have the most impact. When we facilitated cooking classes to help young moms know what to do with the fresh vegetables, we learned that there are no pots and pans in most homes. It’s hard to cook without equipment, so we hope gradually to provide utensils to the families we serve.”
In the interim, there are local angels who have jumped on board to help make the holiday special. This past week, students at Summit School collected coats, hats and gloves and handed them out along with the 1,000 meals and produce. Next Sunday, H.O.P.E. will be taking 1,100 pair of socks donated by Fleet Feet, about 2,000 books from Barnes & Noble, 50 cases of cookies from Dewey’s Bakery and toys from the parole/probation officers of Winston-Salem. “It should be a big week for the children! Our focus remains on healthy food but having the extras donated to give at the holidays is such a wonderful thing.”
The goal is certainly to meet the physical needs every week, but the relationships are what mean something. “Being able to say ‘how did your surgery go?’, ‘how did you do on that test?’ or ‘hey, here’s a bag with those sweet potatoes you love’…we are building communities, getting to know what’s important. It’s not about giving to the poor, it’s about building friendships and that’s what touches the hearts of the volunteers.” I can vouch for that. If you have a few hours, come out on a Saturday and help make lunches or deliver with the H.O.P.E. truck on a Sunday afternoon. Try to make time or make a contribution. I promise it will do so much more than feed a few bellies. That green truck delivers hope, opportunity, and bright futures that start with a little brown bag.
Learn more at www.hopews.org and give a child H.O.P.E.!
Check out other “Doing Good Things” blogs here:
“Doing Good Things Series”- Empowered Girls of North Carolina
“Doing Good Things Series” – The Speech Bus