Good nutrition is one of the most important building blocks for a solid foundation that has far-reaching implications for a child's future physical and mental well-being. However, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 13 million children under the age of 18 live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough healthy food necessary for a healthy life.
While the school breakfast and lunch program helps with that, when school is not in session, many of these children go without. The consequences of malnutrition can be severe, affecting cognitive development in young children and school performance in older children. In addition, research shows that with hunger also comes more frequent illness and higher health care costs.
One Benton church is leveling that playing field, one plate at a time.
The First Christian Church basement is home to the Spring Break Hot Lunch Ministry. Every day during break, volunteers are busy preparing lunch for those that show up to eat.
Becky Mandrell is "the captain of the ship," according to volunteer Mary Lou Payne. "She is the organizer," she said.
Mandrell and her team of volunteers from the church prepare a hot lunch that is served each day from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. this week. They will serve anywhere from 20 to 50 each day, and seconds are usually available.
"We already do the weekend lunch bag for grades 4 to 6," said Mandrell. "We prepare about 40 bags each week that are delivered to the school."
Mandrell is a retired educator who knows first-hand how important it is for kids to have enough to eat. "They can't think about learning when they're hungry," she said.
This week's menus include things like sloppy joes, hamburgers, lasagna, chicken casserole, and the staple macaroni and cheese. "That seems to be a favorite," Mandrell said.
The program is open to all youth up to age 18, and parents are welcome, too.