In February of 2008, I attended, along with several other members of EHUMC, a “talk” on poverty in Georgia. The number of people living in poverty is astounding; the average age of the homeless person in Georgia is 9 years old. Many people work daily to provide assistance to kids in poverty, and their task is overwhelming. Much of the work is absolutely heroic. In the midst of all of the statistics, heart wrenching stories and photos, I felt helpless rather than challenged.
Then a minister mentioned that his wife had organized a few church folks to take bags of food to their local school for some of the children. These children, who were already on free or reduced meals at school, came back on Mondays having hardly eaten over the weekend.
As a mother whose 6 children seem to eat all of the time, I was shocked to discover that there were children, possibly in my neighborhood, who were not eating adequately.
Over the next few months, the whole idea of children without enough food, and one congregation’s response to the problem, played in my head persistently. By the middle of summer, I had a plan too. One so simple that I believe any church, or other organization, can carry it out – we have!
At Embry Hills UMC, we put together 100+ small bags of healthy snacks and take them to our nearest Title 1 school every Friday morning during the school year. In the following pages, you’ll see exactly what you need to start and carry out this mission. In the last pages, you can read about why we do things the way we do and some suggestions about how to get others involved in your new mission.
Welcome to SNAX SAX! You are going to love this project!
Beth Starling, Coordinator of Snax Sax for Kids
Co-Chair of Work Area on Outreach
Embry Hills United Methodist Church
They are heavy duty, medium sized brown paper bags filled with healthy snacks. These bags are not intended to provide groceries for families. Instead, the snacks are intended to supplement any meals a child may, or may not, be getting at home on weekends during the school year. In the following pages, you will see a list of recommended items that may be included in the bags each week, including fresh fruit.
A Nine Step Process to Start Your Own Program
You are going to need the commitment of at least 3-4 other people, as well as some funds, to get this started. As co-chair of Outreach at our church, I shared the plan with that committee.
I was already aware of the Title 1 status of the school in my neighborhood. Title 1 schools have a high percentage of children on free or reduced meals. You should be able to go online to your local public school system to find this information. Once you have identified the school you’d like to work with, contacting the principal is next. In our case, I was already acquainted with the principal. We met, and I explained the program and asked if she thought there were children in her school who were in need of this kind of help. I explained that we would be providing bags of snacks only: no church literature, invitations, religious notes, etc. The bags would be left at the school for her staff to distribute. All we needed to know were how many bags to deliver each week. She gave the school counselor the task of identifying the children in need.
- You will need a place to store donations with bins or boxes for sorting the various items.
- You will need more boxes or bins to label and use for collecting the item donations.
- You will need a supply of medium sized paper bags (hardware weight) and a stapler with “sharp tipped” staples.
- Finally, you will need a place to sort and fill the bags on Friday mornings.
This is one of the fun parts! You’ll need copies of the suggested items donation list as well as a short explanation of the project. (Copies of what we used are included in this file). We put an insert into the Sunday morning bulletin and did a short presentation at Wednesday night supper and a UMW meeting. The presentations included samples from the recommended donation list, the paper bags we’d be using, and copies of the bulletin insert.
Start requesting donations 2-3 weeks before your first delivery date.
Give the school your first delivery date and expected time of delivery. Our 1st school sent letters home explaining the project and offering the bags. The first week after the letter went home, we made 15 bags. By week 3, we were up to 45. (We also made bags for any children in the household who did not attend the school). As children came or left the school, or other children were added to the program, our numbers varied slightly each week. We now deliver approximately 55 bags to one school and 50+ to another school.
We have 8 bins:
- single-serving milk boxes
- single-serving juice boxes
- single-serving cereal boxes and cereal bars
- spaghetti-0’s, chefboyardee pasta in pop-top cans
- high fat, protein products like peanut butter, peanut butter cracker, cheese crackers, and pudding cups
- fruit cups, dried fruit, applesauce
- granola bars
- ”treats” – chips, cookies, etc.
Each bag gets at least one item from each bin, plus 1-2 pieces of fresh fruit.
On Thursday morning, find out how many bags are needed and check your supplies.
Buy anything you will need for the next day. We usually need to purchase more milk, canned pasta and fresh fruit.
You’ll need flat trays to carry the bags for delivery. We use cardboard trays from Costco. We also use a large cart that we take to the school as well.
We count out the number of pasta cans equal to the number of bags needed. We organize the bins on tables according to the weight of the items (heaviest items go in the bags first). The fruit is on the end of the table. Then the assembly line starts!
Once the bags are filled, fold over the top twice, about an inch deep, and staple closed on either side of the folded top. This creates a sort of handle for the bag, and lessens the likelihood of children scratching themselves on the staples.
Load the bags on to the trays for transport. Now all you have to do is deliver the bags!
If your organization doesn’t have one, check with the school ahead of time to see if they have a media cart that you can use each week to bring in the trays of Snax Sax. Make sure you know exactly where to deliver the bags and don’t forget to keep your trays for next week!
Once your group gets the hang of it, you will be able to pack 100+ bags in less than an hour. Our group shows up at 9am, sets up the long tables and the sorted and filled bins and gets started. Of course, we do spend time during the week emptying the collection bins and sorting out the items into the correct storage bins. That takes less than 1 ½ hours. A few of us also go out on Thursday to purchase whatever items we are lacking that week. This can take up to 3 combined hours. By Friday morning, we usually have everything ready to pack the bags.
That’s 5-6 hours a week, spread among your group and you all will have provided enough food to sustain more than 100 children for 48 hours. Wow. I think this is a wonderful modern variation on the loaves and fishes story!
- Single serving unsweetened applesauce cups
- Single serving fruit cups in light or no syrup
- Single serving pudding cups
- Single serving 100% juice boxes (no sugar added)
- Single serving milk boxes (no refrigeration necessary)
- Single serving cheese or peanut butter crackers
- Single serving dried fruit – (raisins, cranberries, mixed fruit)
- Fruit and grain cereal bars, granola bars
- Single serving boxes of cereal
- Single serving packs of cookies, teddy grahams, goldfish crackers, and pretzels.
- Pop-top cans of meatless Spaghetti-o’s and Chefboyardee (meatless contains less sodium and fat)
- “No sugar added” fruit strips (available at Target). Fruit rol1ups and gummy treats are not real fruit! Another product called “fruit leather” is also “no sugar added” and available at Costco.
- Fresh fruit that travels well, such as: apples, pears, oranges, tangerines. We try to put 2 pieces of fruit in each bag.