Thanks to people like Mary K. and Gene Carlton, along with several dedicated volunteers and donors, children in Jackson County are receiving a wonderful gift in their backpacks each week throughout the school year.
The gift, a bag filled with nutritious food and snacks, is called a ‘Journey Bag,’ after the Sunday school class at the First United Methodist Church in Scottsboro where the idea first originated.
Carlton, a smiling woman with a big heart, is the president of the church’s United Methodist Women organization (UMW), and as a lifetime volunteer in different organizations, she is a person who believes in action when there is a need.
The idea for the bags came about after her Sunday school teacher, Karen Screws, gave a series of lessons that included a look at child hunger in the area.
“We talked for several weeks about children’s nutrition and children’s hunger,” Carlton said. “There is a large percentage, over 50%, of the children in the county who are on free or reduced lunches at school.
“So one day, I said to the Sunday school class, ‘are we just going to talk about this or are we going do something?’”
There was a couple, the Stensons, in the class who had been involved with a backpack food ministry program called, ‘Nourish One Child,’ in their former church in Athens, who told the class about the program and how it had been so successful.
“At the time, Mr. Stenson was the head of Bellefonte,” Carlton said. “After we discussed it, everyone in the class was in favor of starting a program like that at our church. The Stensons got us started with a check for $5,000.”
That was in 2013, and after two years of hard work, the program is still growing and going strong.
The church serves children in Nelson, Brownwood and Collins Elementary schools. This year, they will also add Scottsboro Junior High and Scottsboro High School.
“We started with 25 kids and now we’re up to 135, plus the children who are at Caldwell,” Carlton said. “Caldwell is served by Faith Covenant Church of God.”
Each week, the Gene and Mary K. do the shopping themselves, along with help from Connie Cotton and Mary Nixson.
Their mission is to find the best deals on bulk items such as grain bars, beef jerky, ‘cup-o-soup’ and Jell-O fruit cups.
Once the food is purchased, they count everything and have it ready along with the empty bags. Then, volunteers from UMW and the church meet at 4:00 p.m. each Wednesday to fill the bags assembly-line style.
“We have around 20 regular volunteers each week,” she said.
“We moved from the main campus over to the basement at Fellowship Ministry Center, but now since we needed more storage and room for volunteers we’ve moved upstairs,” she said.
“We put the food in plastic bags. There are four grains, two fruits, two dairy products and at least one protein in each bag.”
When the food is ready, it goes into the community.
“We’ve got two volunteers who retired from Nelson who deliver there, and Gene and I deliver the rest,” Carlton said.
The teachers at each school distribute the bags.
“The teachers put them in the backpacks of the children who need them,” she said. “We have no knowledge of who these children are and we do not want to know. That part doesn’t matter. We are just happy to help.”
Over time, the original $5,000 ran out, and the Stensons gave an additional contribution to continue it. But after Mr. Stenson retired, the couple moved away and the church has found other ways to sustain it.
“This year we our second grant from the Bynum Foundation for $8,000 and then last week, we received a donation from the Raymond James Financial Group for $5,000,” she said. “The UMW and the men at our church also give money to help.”
The children at the Children’s Place and in the children and youth ministries at First United Methodist donate, too.
“This program is a passion for us,” she said. “I have a background in nutrition and it’s very important to make sure children eat the right foods. We are happy to help get this food to children who might not otherwise have it.
“We are also working on a program to get them a book each month to enjoy,” she said. “We will have more details about that later.”
If you are interested in donating to the ‘Nourish One Child’ program at the First United Methodist Church, contact Mary K. Carlton at: 256-574-2545.
“Any amount you can give will certainly be appreciated,” she said.
NOURISH ONE CHILD PROGRAM
2014-2015 SCHOOL YEAR STATISTICS
- First United Methodist Church and partner Faith Covenant Church of God packed and distributed approximately 30,000 and 10,000 nourishing food items respectively for a total of 40,000 items to Scottsboro City Elementary School children. The program is supported by private and local donations coordinated through the respective churches.
- These items were placed in identified student’s backpacks by teachers each Friday in Walmart type plastic bags. Each bag contained 10 food items and were distributed each week to over 120 children in all Scottsboro Elementary Schools.
- A Bynum Grant of $8,000 supported more food distribution last school year by increasing the items per bag from 8 to 10 (25% increase). Also, the number of children receiving bags increased from 95 to 122 (28% increase). The Bynum Grant also provided funds to support the Scottsboro City Schools Camp Collins Summer Program where approximately 700 food bags were distributed during the month of June.
- Following training, First United Methodist Church and Faith Covenant Church of God volunteers obtained and distributed approximately 9,000 of the 40,000 food items from the North Alabama Food Bank in Huntsville through a matching $2000 grant. This food was obtained at no cost to the churches.
- First United Methodist Church Volunteers recorded 500 man-hours of service to the Nourish One Child Program. Volunteers ranged in age from 5 to 95! Typically 15+ volunteers donated time each week to the program.