HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-When it's time to eat, thousands of north Alabama children lean on federally-funded school meal programs to keep them going through the day. But what happens when the weekend comes and the pantry at home is empty?
Every week, hundreds of food bags are packed and stocked at Huntsville's Manna House ministry headquarters. And when the school bell rings on Friday afternoon, those sacks go home with needy children, many of whom may not have another option for finding food on the weekend.
Now in its fourth year, Manna House's "PERKS" program provides weekend meals for low-income students. Sandwiches, cereal, milk, fruits and vegetables, and even yummy deserts are all part of the pre-packaged meals that go out to thousands of pupils across Madison County. "PERKS" stands for Personal Emergency Resources for Kids in Schools.
"The food from the bags we pack is all they get to eat for the whole weekend," said PERKS volunteer Jane Agazzi, who estimated that 600 meal bags were packed this past week. "I'm here doing it for just two words, hungry children...Sometimes it's like the loaves and the fishes. We don't quite know how much we're gonna have, but God always supplies what we need to put in those bags."
Manna House officials said they've been able to successfully spin off similar programs to other area churches and ministries, with many of them picking up schools formerly under the PERKS umbrella. More than 12,000 meals were distributed by PERKS volunteers last year.
PERKS is all referral-based, with teachers and administrators looking for signs of signs of hunger in students they interact with. If they suspect a child could benefit, the student's name is added to a master list kept on file at Manna House.
Manna House officials said anyone who has a potential referral for PERKS should call their main office line at 256-503-4848.