A typical summer meal consists of an entree, a fruit, a vegetable, and a beverage or two. Sounds typical, right? Summer meals at Let’s Eat contain the same items, but with a few extras like hope, mentors, guidance, education, enrichment, and trust.
I arrived at the Let’s Eat Hub at roughly 7 a.m. prepared to document whatever the day may bring. I expected summer meals and lots of children. I did not expect to see an organization making such a big and genuine impact on children in need.
At the hub, I saw 15 team members, ranging from high school to college students, preparing hundreds of breakfast and lunch meals in white paper bags for 17 summer meal sites throughout Atlanta. Breakfast was a strawberry pop tart, white milk, and 100% grape juice. Lunch for the day was a turkey sandwich with American cheese on wheat bread, a pear cup, chocolate milk, and grape juice. They were moving in a fast and organized way with excitement.
After the meals were completed, counted, and placed in the appropriate coolers; Nate Dyer, the founder of Let’s Eat, huddled the team together for prayer. They ended the huddle by shouting their mantra, “Power. Let’s Eat. Kids First.” And they were off to their meal site assignments.
Imagine waking up every morning to only be presented with lifeless activity outside your door. Across the street is a cemetery, a federal prison is just over the fence, and deteriorating homes line the street as you walk towards a school that is low performing. For many of the Let’s Eat children, this is their reality.
“A lot of these communities have low performing schools and high poverty. These areas have very intelligent young people, but the schools don’t understand them or their environment and suspend them left and right,” said Dyer.
It seems like a powerless and lifeless reality, but with Let’s Eat there is hope and a meal.
“It [Let’s Eat] keeps me out of trouble,” said 12-year-old Walt-t, who I met at the New Grant Chapel site with a group of boys. The other boys, ranging in age from 8 to 12, told me if they were not at Let’s Eat summer meals, they would likely be getting into trouble as well or at home being bored.
Each boy explained to me what they learn and do at New Grant Chapel. “We learn about the Bible and stuff. I kind of like it,” said one boy.
Andre, 10, told me about his performance on his first day visiting. “I got to do a rap performance up there in front of the room. I think I did pretty good,” he said.
At the Forest Cove Apartments site, I saw Richard, a first summer employee, helping a young boy named Reginald with third grade math. They were counting and thinking through tough problems and each time Reginald figured out the correct answer, a mini celebration ensued.
I later found out Reginald wanted to do math problems, and Richard was there to help him just like he promised.
“If they need a brother, I’ll be a brother. If they need an uncle, I’ll be an uncle. I’m trying to help them out to become leaders. A lot of them have the character to become a leader,” said Richard.
In addition to building leaders, Let’s Eat provides an enriching and educational curriculum. Mondays and Wednesdays are “Let’s Talk,” lessons on how to properly converse, along with building conversational skills. Tuesdays and Thursdays are for reading and goal setting. Fridays are days for children to express themselves artistically. Every day is an opportunity for the children to be powered up for success.
Many of Let’s Eat sites are located in the heart of a food desert.
There are no big box grocery stores around like a Kroger or Publix nearby, fast food restaurants like McDonald’s or Wendy’s up the road, or even a place to buy fresh produce. A few mom and pop shops may be sprinkled throughout, but do not fill the need for nutritious food.
Food deserts are part of the reason why Georgia has 700,000 children who are food insecure. These children do not have access to adequate and affordable nutritious food.
It makes the job for Let’s Eat bigger, but even more necessary.
For many children, the meals Let’s Eat provides may be the only meals they receive for the day. Their only nutrition and answer to hunger are in those white paper bags.
These children depend on Let’s Eat to eat and live, literally.
I asked Trinity, 5, what her favorite summer meal is and she excitedly said, “I like the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the most.” White milk is her favorite drink and she proudly said, “I drink all of my milk too.”
I asked a large amount of children what their favorite meal is and the consensus came back as breaded chicken fingers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
“Every kid has potential. I see potential in them,” said Raequan, a first summer employee.
I can honestly say that children are put first at Let’s Eat. The employees have a heart for the children and genuinely care about each one they encounter.
Precious, a first summer employee, is building strong relationships with some of the children from the Magnolia Park Apartments and Ashley Collegetown Apartments summer meal sites. “The kids are excited to see me when I go there,” she said.
I met Rachelle, a second summer employee, who told me about a couple of girls she met last summer at a site. “I still have a relationship with the girls. I’m hoping I can see them today,” she said. “People have preconceived notions about how they may be, but you never know until you meet them. They are just great kids.”
Each child is truly great and sometimes need someone to care. Ben, a second summer employee, told me about a young boy named Lee that he has taken under his wing. Lee appears to be a troublemaker, but Ben can see his good heart.
“Lee looks up to me. He has the same vision that I have to play college football. He told me, ‘I feel like that even if my back is against the wall, I feel like you’ll take me off.’ I thought about it and said, ‘Wow!’ We’re here understanding and helping the youth to empower them to become successful.”
I am still in awe of the big and genuine impact I witnessed Let’s Eat making on each child. Let’s Eat provides more than a meal, it provides hope for a better tomorrow.
Power. Let’s Eat. Kids First.
Find free summer meals in your area
Summer meal programs are free to children under age 18. There are three ways to find free summer meals in your area:
1) Text “Food GA” to 877877
2) Call the SFSP line at 855-550-SFSP
3) Dial 211