By Kim West
A grassroots effort to provide weekend nourishment for grade-school students has grown from a church project and the brainchild of two Athens mothers into a countywide campaign that feeds more than 175 children.
The Full Tummy Project is embarking on its third school year by serving 105 elementary children in the five-school city system and about 70 at the county’s nine elementary sites.
Through Full Tummy donations delivered each week, school officials provide students with a bag of weekend snacks and non-perishable meals each Friday from August through May.
Athens mothers Jennifer Morrison and Kristy Chavers began Full Tummy two years ago, while a small group of Friendship United Methodist Church members started a similar ministry known as Backpack Blessings.
Nikki Colwell, a Full Tummy organizer and communications director for Friendship UMC, said the project has flourished since both groups merged last year. More than 30,000 bags were distributed during the program’s inception in 2011.
“This is our second year of combined efforts as a true community ministry,” Colwell said. “The Full Tummy Project provides a small bag of food every Friday to children in schools that have been identified by principals, guidance counselors and teachers as at-risk for hunger.
“The children are fed breakfast and lunch at school during the week, but their families might not have the resources to provide enough food during the weekends. Each bag of food is easy to open and ready to eat, and the students are going home knowing that they will have enough food until Monday.”
An outlet for giving
Colwell said the project resonates with volunteers because it provides a way to make a tangible impact despite seemingly overwhelming global issues.
“This started initially at Friendship as my small group’s way to serve and make a difference for a few kids, and God just has turned it into something much bigger than I could have planned,” Colwell said. “When other people heard about Full Tummy’s mission of ending hunger and changing lives, they were excited. There are so many problems that seem too big to solve in the world, but people look at this and say, ‘I can fix this problem and make sure a kid won’t go hungry.’”
She said it could also be a service-learning tool for children that participate in the program as volunteers. Colwell, a mother of three with two school-aged children, said her oldest daughter, a second-grader, and her son, a kindergartener, have learned firsthand about the program through grocery shopping for Full Tummy bags.
“It made such an impact on my daughter that she asked Santa for food she could donate to the Full Tummy Project on her Christmas list last year,” Colwell said.
Throughout the year, various groups and churches host “Pack and Pray Day” to pack a month’s supply or more of food bags and replenish the Full Tummy inventory. Colwell said individual donations are accepted in any amount, with a $200 sponsorship covering the cost of a school year’s worth of weekend vittles for one student.
She said food items that are individually packaged, non-perishable and ready to eat are also welcome. The Full Tummy bags have an assortment of 100 percent fruit juice boxes, shelf-stable milk, fruit cups, raisin packs, cereal bars, fruit snacks, cookies, sandwich crackers, canned pasta and servable soups.
“We just ask that the food is easy to open and ready to eat,” Colwell said.
The program does not require eligibility paperwork, but parents are encouraged to notify school officials if they want to add their children.
“There is no paperwork, but the best way if parents want their children to be provided a bag is to call their school,” she said. “We never know who is receiving the bags because the list is kept completely confidential, and the school only tells us the number of bags needed.”
She said Full Tummy organizers throughout Limestone County are forming a board of directors.
“We want to form a board to help empower groups to feed as many children as possible, and that’s been our goal from the beginning,” Colwell said. “We want to share resources and support one another.”
For more information, visit www.fulltummyproject.org or call 256-232-4906.