Ministry lets kids help other students

Teacher Needra Henderson and students in Clanton Elementary’s after-school program help organize snacks for kids to take home over the weekend.

By Emily Beckett

Hunger – it’s a basic feeling all humans are equipped with at birth.

It is a part of daily life, and it normally goes away when a person eats enough.

Only when a person eats enough.

In Chilton County, some children dread leaving school on Friday afternoons because they know they will not have enough food at home over the weekend.

Enter Linda Anderson, a second grade teacher at Clanton Elementary School and organizer of the Snack Sack ministry at First United Methodist Church of Clanton.

Anderson started the Snack Sack ministry last year after realizing how many children at CES alone were suffering from hunger, especially on Saturdays and Sundays when school meals are not available.

“That’s where I work. I know the children. I see the need,” Anderson said. “It just broke my heart to see children coming to school hungry.”

Anderson enlisted help from her Sunday School class to start the Snack Sack ministry, which provides bags of nutritious, non-perishable food for children to take home every Friday.

The ministry also provides teachers with snacks to keep in their classrooms for the same children who do not usually have one during snack time.

Food in the sacks includes Chef Boyardee or Vienna sausage cans, peanut butter or cheese and crackers, pudding cups, 100-percent fruit juice boxes, Pop-Tarts, breakfast grits, applesauce, oatmeal, granola bars and fruit chews.

“We started out doing this last year as a trial project,” Anderson said. “We didn’t want to start something and just not be able to continue it. We couldn’t do everybody, so we started where we were.”

Anderson said the ministry serves from 25-28 students at CES, kindergarten through second grade.

Last year, FUMC partnered with West End Baptist Church to launch the ministry.

This year, students involved in the CES after-school program called Tiger Trails are helping to pack the sacks every Thursday as part of their community service.

“They really enjoy helping other children their own age. It’s done something to their hearts,” said Anderson, who is co-director of the program. “It’s giving them a desire to serve other people. We want them to be productive, caring citizens of society.”

This is the first year the Snack Sack ministry has served children since the first day of a new school year.

“We did 15 (children) last year just to kind of see if we could do it and maintain it,” Anderson said. “It was so important for us to do it consistently and the whole year.”

According to Anderson, the ministry has never run out of food or money to buy food for the snack sacks.

Associated Foods in Clanton has consistently donated white bags for the snacks, and numerous members of FUMC have contributed to the ministry.

“If another church or group wanted to participate, there are still children,” Anderson said. “The need is so great, we would still have a group that they could service as well.”

Anderson said she and her volunteers work with teachers and the guidance counselor at CES to determine which children need help.

Those children are sent home with a letter about the Snack Sack ministry, and their parents must sign the letter if they approve of their children being recipients.

Adult and student volunteers discreetly deliver the snack sacks to the designated classrooms every Friday afternoon.

“The part that’s been most satisfying for me is watching children develop hearts to help others,” Anderson said. “Providing others with something they don’t have. They start fighting over who is going to get to deliver the next set of bags.”

Each snack sack is double-bagged so other children cannot see through.

“We double bag them into two white plastic bags and tie them up with a card that says Snack Sack Ministry of FUMC,” Anderson said. “It’s not anything that would attract attention of bigger kids on the bus.”

Anderson said they would like to put copies of the New Testament, coloring books or small gifts in the sacks by the end of this school year.

“It’s not a project. It’s a ministry,” she said. “We’ve really looked at it as people helping people. We’ve all been helped and we’re just taking our turn now to help others.”

Each bag is designed to last an entire weekend to help keep children full between meals.

Anderson and a group of volunteers meet at Associated Foods about once a month to purchase groceries for the sacks with donated money.

“My class spearheads it, but the entire church participates,” she said. “The money has replenished just like the product does. We haven’t run out of anything.”

Anyone is welcome to donate food, money or time to the ministry, Anderson said.

At least 25 children will be better off for it.

“They are so appreciative,” Anderson said. “You’ve never heard a complaint about the types of foods in the bags.”

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