A hungry child can't learn – and if kids don't learn, the entire community suffers.
But if you feed the child, the cycle of poverty can be broken.
Such a simple idea, but Pam Graham's heart lit up when the founder of MUST Ministries' Save It Forward first shared it with her. Newly retired after 26 years with Delta Airlines and recently widowed, Pam poured herself into the challenge of getting Save It Forward up and running.
"We knew the need was enormous," explains Pam, a longtime Atlanta resident and grandmother of seven. "One in four Georgia children don't get enough to eat, and nearly half of all children in the state live in low-income households." She also knew they had a great idea: Collect grocery coupons and send volunteers out shopping. Gather the donated food into a warehouse and then distribute it to schools, where students and their families can receive it discreetly.
Not only do better-fed students learn more in school, but also "coupon shopping provides children with the same snacks all of their classmates are eating," Pam says. "If you have no snacks and you're getting them out of a basket the teacher has in the classroom, it creates a stigma. There's a whole lot going on, more than just the food."
The Save It Forward idea caught fire with families, organizations, churches, businesses – and schools. Soon Pam found herself inundated with clipping coupons, compiling grocery lists, shopping, sorting donations and distributing to an ever-growing number of school food pantries.
"As the program expanded, I couldn't do all of that, so I backed off from front-line things and started working at the warehouse more," Pam explains. When Save It Forward merged with MUST in 2015, a new horizon of opportunity opened up.
Pam particularly appreciates the MUST volunteers who have come alongside to help. "It's a very labor-intensive program. We do a lot of laborious chores with the packing and distributions to the schools where the food is picked up. It requires a lot of volunteers to do the work," she says. "It was really nice to see they have the same heart for the program that we had when it all began. It's very touching to think that other people can see the benefit of it and have the same drive to make sure it continues."
Save It Forward distributed 246,830 pounds of food and toiletries through 24 schools in 2016. To learn how you can help, please visit mustministries.org.