Growing program still needs help to feed kids

August 3, 2016 Michael Panik

It may be difficult for some people to fathom in a city where the median household income is $76,000, but there are still children in Hoover who don’t have enough to eat.

Hoover Helps, a nonprofit group formed in February 2015 to help battle hunger among children, has worked with Hoover school officials to identify more than 400 children in Hoover City Schools who are deemed “food insecure.” That means the students have consistently shown signs they don’t get enough food to eat at home, said Greg Bishop, a Lake Cyrus resident who leads the Hoover Helps group.

“It is a problem, but it’s something we can fix, and we are fixing it,” he said.

For about a decade, Green Valley Baptist Church and Bluff Park United Methodist Church have been sending food home with kids in their school backpacks on Fridays to make sure they had food to eat on the weekends.

But those backpack programs were only available at four elementary schools, Bishop said.

Since February 2015, Hoover Helps has been able to find other churches, companies and community partners to start weekend food backpack programs at the other six public elementary schools as well as Brock’s Gap Intermediate School, Hoover’s three middle schools and the Crossroads alternative school, he said.

Those programs this past school year served more than 350 children, Bishop said.

However, Hoover Helps still is looking for a community partner to work with Bumpus Middle School and additional funding to serve nearly 50 children at Shades Mountain Elementary who are without sponsors, he said.

Work also is underway to figure out the most appropriate way to help serve an estimated 150 students at Hoover’s high schools who need access to more food on the weekends, he said.

Community rallies

It takes about $200 a year to send food home each weekend with a child during the school year, Bishop said. So with 550 children, the costs add up quickly.

But Bishop said he has been amazed at the generosity of Hoover churches, companies and other community groups so far.

“The community really rallied around this,” he said.

There are 12 sponsoring organizations that have made long-term commitments to their adopted schools and are providing funding and volunteers, Bishop said. Annual funding commitments for the feeding program have grown from $14,000 in August of last year to $66,800 in June.

Bishop said he believes another $26,400 would take care of the current annual needs for “food insecure” students in Hoover City Schools.

Churches have really stepped up to the plate to help, he said.

Bluff Park United Methodist is sponsoring students at Bluff Park and Gwin elementary schools and about 20 at Shades Mountain Elementary. Riverchase United Methodist is sponsoring kids at Riverchase and Rocky Ridge elementary schools and Berry Middle School, and Hunter Street Baptist Church is helping kids at South Shades Crest Elementary and Brock’s Gap Intermediate.

Green Valley Baptist is sponsoring kids at Green Valley Elementary, while The Church of the Highlands is sponsoring kids at Greystone Elementary. Prince of Peace Catholic Church is working with kids at Simmons Middle School, and the Birmingham Islamic Society is sponsoring kids at the Crossroads alternative school.

The Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles and Discovery United Methodist are partnering to help feed kids at Trace Crossings Elementary, and Cross Creek Church and The Church at Ross Bridge are partnering to help kids at Deer Valley Elementary.

Other major sponsors include Alabama Power, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Creative 369, Hoover Tactical Firearms, Hoover area McDonald’s, the Hoover Service Club, Southwest Water and Wal-Mart, Bishop said. But there also are other organizations, individuals and families providing support, he said.

Hoover Helps has no employees, so “100 percent of the money we bring in is going directly to the bellies of kids,” Bishop said.

Sharing blessings

Dee Nance led a group of volunteers from the Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles this past year to help the kids at Trace Crossings.

“It was great,” Nance said. “It’s a simple program for a lot of success. There’s not a lot of work that’s involved.”

Volunteers at the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama sort food into bags, and Nance and other volunteers from the church pick up the bags from the food bank and deliver them to the school, she said.

Teachers discreetly put the food in needy kids’ backpacks, typically while they are at recess, Bishop said.

The church holds fundraisers to raise money for the ministry, and the vestry designates money from the church’s budget, Nance said.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize Hoover has the needs they have because it’s Hoover, but there are children with needs,” Nance said. “If we as a church and church family can share some of the blessings we have to make other people’s lives richer, that’s our place to do that.”

Bishop said each school and community partner works out details in their own way to meet the needs of the kids, but he hopes to have sponsors for all hungry kids in Hoover soon.

People can make tax-deductible donations at hooverhelps.org or by sending checks to Hoover Helps at 1658 Lake Cyrus Club Drive, Hoover, 35244. For more information or to volunteer, emailhooverhelps@gmail.com.