Hampton Elementary teacher spends summer with children, as well

School has been out for over a month, but this elementary school teacher still gets up early every morning to get ready. Though her day starts later than normal, she still goes through her morning routine, getting ready for a full day of work. Her children pile in the car, and away they go. It is not a school she drives to, however. This time, she is going to the TLC Community Center in Elizabethton.

“We usually open the center around 10 a.m.,” Tammy Casbeer said.

Once the doors are open, she and dozens of other volunteers get to work, immediately preparing bags and bags and bags of hot and cold meal bags to deliver across the county.

Casbeer works at Hampton Elementary with special education with pre-kindergarten students as a para-professional. For the past four years, however, she takes roughly a week off before immediately volunteering with Director Angie Odom’s Summer Food Program. She said she first heard about the program through her church, First United Methodist of Elizabethton.

“We have Food for the Multitude,” she said. “It takes place at the TLC every fifth Saturday.”

The Summer Food Program has similar goals. Odom’s program delivers bags of food to children across Carter County during the summer five days a week. The program begins one week after school gets out and ends one week before school starts back up in August.

Casbeer spends about an hour and a half with a dozen of other volunteers cooking the hot meals and organizing Ziploc bags of sandwiches and other food items. This time around, it was macaroni and cheese.

After everything was ready to go, all the volunteers gather in a  prayer circle before scattering into different delivery vans.

“We try to be on the road by about 11:30,” she said.

This year, Casbeer is in charge of the Valley Forge and Hampton route, which takes anywhere between an hour and a half to roughly two hours to complete. Casbeer makes a total of 24 stops along her journey through the poorer neighborhoods of the county: nine in Valley Forge and 15 in Hampton.

“I always had a passion for kids,” Casbeer said. “The biggest thing is when they get that light bulb when they finally get it.”

She said her work with special needs children makes moments like that even more special.

“They do not do that for just anyone,” she said.

When Casbeer reaches one of her stops, she lays on the horn so the children and their parents know they are there. She said this is often because the parents have the TV or radio on with high volume, so simply driving up to the homes would not be enough to get their attention. When they hear the horn, however, the children often come running. They know who that is, and they know what she is bringing them.

“The kids see you every day, and they get to know you,” Casbeer said. “The kids will talk with you if they are having problems.”

She said she is happy to have those conversations and will often exchange hugs or other forms of physical interaction, making her stops as long as the children need them to be.

“For some of these kids, we might be the only hug they get all day,” Casbeer said.

The meals themselves come from both donations and other food orders the TLC is able to pull together. They typically receive pallets worth of food at a time.

When the children come out to meet with the van, they come out with grocery bags like Halloween.

Casbeer and a few other volunteers riding with her will place food items in each of their bags. Parents can accept the food in their place, but only if they have previously come with their child beforehand. Casbeer said this is so the center knows the food is ending up with their target demographic: children.

“Without us, these kids would not have food,” Casbeer said. “It is a feeling you are doing the right thing.”

The job is not all sunshine and rainbows, however. She said talking with the children is sometimes heartbreaking.

“The only thing you can do is talk, pray and give them food,” Casbeer said. “I am not able to take that pain away.”

She said for those who live in poverty, it is not a choice, but a grim reality many cannot escape.

“They have not chosen this way of life, they are just living in it,” she said.

Casbeer said she did not want the credit for her work in the program, instead giving it to Odom’s passion for the community in setting up the program, which has been running for over 15 years.

She said it is essentially another work day, as her job is typically not complete until around 3 p.m. that afternoon once the cleanup at the center is complete.

“You are exhausted at the end of the day,” she said.

For Casbeer, however, and many others, the smiling faces of the hundreds of children they see five days a week is worth it.

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