By Kara Witherow, Special Contributor…
For years, Melanie Brooks often traveled in her job as a healthcare consultant, along with her travel companion Spenser, a three-pound Yorkie. On weekends, the pair would wander and explore the cities and local area, and Ms. Brooks would send funny emails to family members, detailing the adventures.
“Over time people told her that she had a gift for writing stories … so she thought about turning her stories about her dog into children’s books,” said Ms. Brooks’ daughter, Lindsey Buck.
The project languished on the back burner for a bit, but Ms. Buck says that eventually her mom felt “an audible calling from God to do this as a ministry, to use this God-given gift of writing and storytelling to benefit something tangible and to make it special.”
So when Ms. Brooks decided to put pen to paper, she also put her faith and money into action. That was the beginning of Operation Hungry Child, which blossomed into family passion for helping end childhood hunger that is making a difference in children’s lives throughout South Georgia and in cities across the United States.
Now, Operation Hungry Child involves Ms. Brooks, Ms. Buck and her husband, the Rev. Joe Buck, pastor of Sandersville (Georgia) United Methodist Church and their two children.
Ms. Brook has written five books — Spenser Goes to Portland, Spenser Goes to St. Louis, Spenser’s Savannah, and Spenser Goes to El Paso in English and in Spanish – for which author proceeds go to food banks in each community in which a book is set.
Each time Ms. Brooks writes and publishes a book, the entire family travels to the city in which the book is set, tours the local food bank, and visits with those they’ll serve.
Ms. Buck said that her mother long ago instilled in her three children a passion for helping those in need, and now she’s passing that on to her children.
“My mom was a single mom with three kids in three years, and I remember her working really long hours and working really hard to put food on the table,” Ms. Buck said. Still, mother always made sure that her children were aware that they were fortunate.
“I think sometimes you don’t realize how blessed you are until you see those who don’t have near what you have,” Ms. Buck said.
One main focus of Ms. Buck’s and Operation Hungry Child has been to help start Backpack Buddy programs in local United Methodist Churches in south Georgia. In the past three years, they have provided seed money to start two programs.
Epworth United Methodist Church in Jesup, Ga., started a Backpack Buddy program a few years ago and now serves 20 students every week. Macon’s Forest Hills United Methodist Church serves 225 children at 11 schools in Bibb and Monroe Counties. And just a few weeks ago Riverside United Methodist Church submitted a grant request for seed money to start its own Backpack Buddies program.
The program provides students who are identified by teachers, counselors or administrators as being in need with bags of nutritious, individually sized easy-to-prepare containers of food to take home on weekends.
“One of the things we kept hearing from teachers and others is that there are a lot of kids who eat breakfast and lunch at school on Friday and then might not eat again until breakfast the next Monday,” Ms. Buck said. “So we realized that this is a huge need.”
Mr. Buck, who helped launch Epworth UMC’s Backpack Buddy program, says that helping feed people makes him more aware of the blessing of eating three meals every day.
“Some children do not eat three meals in a weekend, and the reality of hungry children is disheartening,” he said. “When you see a child that you know may only get a bag of potato chips and a bottle of soda to get through the weekend, at best, you know that something must be done. Mr. Buck added that Operation Hungry Child is a tangible way to make children’ lives better, because eating healthy meals improves a child’s ability to learn in school and to grow and develop physically.
“To feed a hungry child is to know that you have made your community a better place to live,” he said.
In addition to helping children, churches and food banks in South Georgia, Operation Hungry Child has provided assistance in Atlanta, North Carolina, St. Louis, Oregon and West Texas.
Ms. Witherow is editor of the Advocate, the newspaper of the South Georgia Conference, where this article first appeared.