Keeping kids fed over the weekend

Whether it is inside a warming center or in your home, heaters will be running for longer hours and hike up the heating bill.

For some families, that means having to choose between paying bills and putting food on the table.

A local organization called Gum Drops is helping to take the edge off for struggling families by helping to provide food for school-aged children.

The volunteers have a system; lay down a bag, a box and load in the food.

“Well, we always have a cereal, a can of pasta, Pop Tarts, popcorn,” said volunteer Dorothy Simpson.

The non-profit organization started six years ago when volunteers learned of a big problem in the local schools.

“The kids came on Monday morning so hungry that they couldn’t really study,” said Simpson.

Most kids are served two free meals a day in school, but on the weekends, founder Ronald Simpson says many kids go hungry.

He began by serving only 12 children and now his team feeds more than 1,400 every weekend.

“We send enough food home for the kids to make it through the weekend until they get back to school,” said Simpson.

Gum Drops works with teachers and counselors to find out which families are most in need.

To keep the recipients anonymous, teachers stick bags of food in backpacks and in lockers. In fact, the volunteers do not even know where the food is going.

Wherever it is going, it is coming at a good time.

“People’s heating bills are going to double and that means people’s food priorities are probably going to lessen. They’re not going to have enough food, or enough money to buy the food,” said Simpson.

It’s a community effort that is all the more important when the temperatures drop.

Gum Drops began their outreach by serving only Carterville School District and they now serve schools in six counties across Southern Illinois.

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