Health and Welfare Committee discusses food, programs for children as school year ends

With questions about health insurance coming to a close, the Health and Welfare Committee was free to explore other topics during their June meeting Tuesday, particularly children’s access to food and other activities during the summer months between school years.

Commissioner Robert Acuff said he met with Principal Diana Bowers from Unaka Elementary last week to talk about the troubles many children face not just at that school but across the county.

“I do not think any of us are surprised, but many of our school kids show up having no breakfast, and they go home to no supper,” Acuff said.

He said there are groups like Angie Odom’s TLC Community Center, who contributes more than 82,000 meals a year, and Carter County Schools started a pilot program last year to help address the problem, as well, but the need still persists.

“I encourage us all, if we can, to interface with Second Harvest Food Bank,” Acuff said.

He also discussed the possibility of getting an outpost for the Boys and Girls Club in Unaka Elementary, shifting the topic to providing programs and education during the summer months.

“We are working with Bowers, […to] also provide not only academic strengthening programs for the kids out there but also an opportunity to deliver meals,” Acuff said.

The committee also discussed the possibility of starting up other programs to catch other students and their families.

“It is a really good model,” Commissioner Mike Hill said of the Boys and Girls Club. “4-H Agricultural Extension Office does a similar program with Avery County Schools. They provide the after-school program and a summer camp. The schools get to do education, and the agency gets to do enrichment.”

Hill said he has suggested a similar program to Carter Cares a number of times, but the idea has never received much traction in past years.

Acuff said when programs similar to that have started, families often cannot afford the cost associated with the program, so they cannot participate, particularly in Unaka Elementary.

Hill said Carter faces its own monetary problems every three years, as their grants become open to renewal, meaning it becomes unclear if they are going to get enough funding.

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