COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — It can be tough keeping up with the hundreds of kids across Columbus who suffer from food insecurity — especially every May to August.
“We generally always see more families and more children with a parent who are coming for our daily Loaves and Fishes meal or their coming for food bags, because they don’t have access that they would when they’re in school,” says Valley Rescue Mission Development Director Mitzi Oxford.
Oxford says the faith-based non-profit Valley Rescue Mission is currently struggling through dangerously low food supplies. The combination homeless shelter and outreach center feeds around 100 people per day during their free Loaves and Fishes lunches and dinners. Oxford says they also hand out around 30 bags of essentials to families in need every day. Needless to say, things run out fast.
“We’ve actually seen a steady increase in the number of people we serve every year,” she adds.
Oxford says one reason may be the increasing homeless population.
“A single mother with kids is the fastest growing homeless population in the U.S. A woman and two children is the most common sight we see here,” she says.
The Georgia Food Bank Association estimates around half a million kids across the state are food insecure, meaning they don’t have consistent access to healthy meals. Those children in need usually depend on their school lunches, but during the summer, Oxford says they come to the shelter.
“There was a little 5-year-old boy who actually walked to the Mission. We fed him and we took him back home, but that is something I’ll never forget. Because that child was hungry, but he knew to come here,” Oxford explains tearfully to News 3’s Mikhaela Singleton.
“Having the support of a non-profit that’s going to help fill in those gaps and that resource, it’s so extremely important for us because we can’t fill in those gaps,” says Mercedes Parham, Communications Director for the Muscogee County School District.
Parham says local schools will soon start their annual food drives to give back to the organizations that gave so much to children in need this Summer.
“The whole point of education is to prepare our young minds to enter the work force and the real world and part of the real world is that we do have people that have less than. It’s really important for our students to see that at a young age and develop an empathy for others,” she says.
Oxford says Valley Rescue Mission needs all the help it can get, including monetary donations from the community.
“We need to keep the lights on and keep the air going, we can’t even consider shutting the doors because then where would these people go?” Oxford says.
She says most non-profits experience what’s known as the “summer slump” when there’s generally a dip in donations.
“You know families are on vacation, then they have to come back and get ready for back to school, so understandably their focus is elsewhere,” she explains. “Hopefully now that the kids are back in school, we’ll see things settle down a bit and the donors will come back.”
Click here for a list of Valley Rescue Mission donation shelters and the form to donate items.