CALLOWAY COUNTY, KY — Summer break is almost here, which means grocery bills are about to go up by more than $300 a month for most parents.

Many families in the Local 6 area rely on low- to no-cost food programs to feed their kids during the school year.

Research shows nearly 86 percent of kids in low-income families in the U.S. don’t get the food they need during the summer. Those kids are more likely to start the next school year months behind their peers. A local program is working to change that, helping fill hungry bellies and minds.

Noraa Ransey is a third-grade teacher at North Calloway Elementary School.

“When you’re a teacher, those kids become yours forever,” says Ransey.

Ransey says her district is one of many where students eat free during the school day. “As a teacher, the hardest time throughout the school year is breaks,” she says. Because when school stops — so do the meals for some children.

“We see it every day,” says Ransey. “If you come into any school in Kentucky on Monday morning, I guarantee you there will be at least one student you will notice did not have enough food over the weekend. If they don’t have that basic need met, they’re not going to be prepared to learn.”

A weekend is a long time for families with little food and Ransey says an entire summer can turn into a nightmare. “I knew as a kid what it was like to be hungry,” says Ransey. She grew up helping take care of her two younger sisters who were also hungry.

“On my worst days as a kid, what made everything livable and what helped me survive: my librarian made sure that I had books to read,” says Ransey.

Ransey says it was normal for her to read two or three chapter books a night. “Literally, like, just inhale the books,” she says. “I loved reading that much. It was my escape. My reality wasn’t always the best, but I could pick up a book and go anywhere I wanted to.”

For the past few years, Ransey has been working with Jennifer Riley to help feed hungry kids over the summer.

Riley is on the board of directors at Soup for the Soul, a soup kitchen in Murray, Kentucky. Once a week, you’ll find her in the basement of the courthouse annex, helping pack bags for the Summer Lunch and Literacy Program.

“There are programs where people can go and get food,” says Riley. “But some families in need don’t have the transportation to get there.”

With Summer Lunch and Literacy Program, Riley says volunteers take the food to the students twice a week. “The first year, we delivered to 75 kids,” she says. “The second year, we delivered to 125. This year, we’re hoping to deliver to 200.”

Riley says the kids also receive a new book to read each week helping them to build a library of their own. “We’re not just feeding their bellies, we’re feeding their minds,” she says.

Ransey says one of the best moments she will never forget happened while delivering food to a local high school boy. “He literally jumped off of a tractor and came running to me, and he said, ‘Did you bring any more books? I finished that one.'”

Jean Hester has already raised three kids of her own. Now, she’s raising five grandchildren.

“It’s always a struggle,” says Hester. “I mean, we have food, but it’s always a struggle. I never have enough to go through the whole month.”

Hester says if it wasn’t for the program, things would be a lot harder around her house. “When I first started getting stuff from the program it made me feel almost like I was a failure,” she says. “It took a little while for that to go away, and I met Ms. Ransey, and she’s a — she’s an angel, and I’m going to cry. She’s made that much of an impact in my grandkids’ lives.”

“There’s no catch to it,” says Ransey. We’re bringing you something you need. We’re not there to check on you. We’re not there to peak at your house. We’re there to provide a basic need. And that happens because of the community that comes together. It takes what everybody can do to make this program a success.”

The Summer Lunch and Literacy Program depends on grants, donations and volunteers to keep going.

Riley says right now they’re in need of more drivers to help deliver the food. For more information on how you can volunteer, click here.