MUST Ministries 25th year of summer lunches for school children begins

Welcome to Cobb County brick sign at Henderson Road on Veterans Memorial

MUST Ministries vehicles rolled into action Monday for the agency’s 25th year of providing summer lunches to school children in Cobb and three other counties. The first day went well said Angie Bolton, director of the program, with 450 meals distributed at two locations in Cobb County alone.

It’s a program that has had to quickly pivot to handle unexpected circumstances for the second year in a row.

In 2019, the non-profit was caught off guard by a health department restriction saying that homemade sandwiches couldn’t be used in the feeding effort. That forced the agency to buy premade sandwiches and undertake a fundraising campaign it to the tune of $250,000 dollars.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced yet another change in operational methodology. Instead of the non-profit going into neighborhoods to feed hungry children, MUST has developed 20 distribution sites-mainly churches- that the agency will drop off meal kits at on a rotating basis from Monday through Friday. The change is designed to help keep clients from gathering in neighborhoods and risking exposure to the virus. Instead they’ll travel to the distribution sites.

The handout points are scattered across Cobb, Cherokee, Pickens and Fulton counties.

“The 25th anniversary of Summer Lunch is certainly not what we expected.” said Dr. Ike Reighard, President and CEO of MUST. He says this year was to be a celebration of volunteers, agency staffers and host churches who have pitched in through the years to make the program work.

Bolton said that instead, agency officials put their time to use making quick changes, arranging for distribution sites and working out other operational details.

“It’s been a challenge and has gone through many revisions but we have something we think is going to work well. We have some great partners in the community and that that’s the only way we’re able to do this,” she said.

MUST officials say a combined-source approach is being used, linking USDA Seamless Summer meals prepared by the Marietta City Schools Nutrition Department with purchased meals and prepackaged items ranging from granola bars to microwavable meal cups. The program will also have a Chic-fil-A day in late June courtesy of the fast-food chain.

Program officials have also built in some flexibility, Bolton said. Although a distribution-point system is the main focus, buses are being utilized to deliver food to some neighborhoods in the Franklin Gateway area of the city of Marietta. It’s the result of a partnership the non-profit worked out with the city.

And one location, Roswell United Methodist Church took a slightly different tack for the program, arranging to provide grocery boxes to families with children in need.

Reighard said funding is coming from a combination of grants and donations. He thinks the effort will wind up feeding some five to six thousand children while school is not in session and cost between 400,000 and 500,000 dollars.

He said an unknown is that if demand is greater than what has been forecast “we may have to hustle more for donations. We may have to look at some other food sources as well.”

And that’s not all, MUST officials said their overall food program has fed more than 34,100 people in the eight or so weeks since the pandemic began.

“It has been overwhelming to see the generosity of our community,” Reighard said.