<b>Program helps fill the hunger gap on weekends</b>

Food. It’s not a want -- it’s a basic human need.

You might not expect a child's eyes to light up like Christmas morning when you give them bag of food to sustain them for a weekend, but Michelle Saunders, student family liaison at Emerson Academy, knows what a gift a Blessing in a Bag can be.

Each Blessing in a Bag is packed with shelf-stable food, such as granola bars, applesauce packs, individual macaroni and cheese, prepackaged fruit snacks and other items designed for a child to open, prepare and eat independently. Blessings in a Bag is just one of the many special programs operated by For Love of Children (FLOC), which serves over 6000 Dayton children annually, providing advocacy, enrichment and educational support for children in need.

“I love the Blessings in a Bag program, because it gives hope,” Saunders said. “My mission in life is to provide light to students in moments of darkness, and this program helps me do that.”

The kind of darkness children experience when, by no fault of their own, they feel hungry and their caregiver can’t provide food for them.

One little boy, one broken-hearted teacher, and an organization with a heart for helping came together by accident one day to create this vital program.

Two years ago, on the first day of the school year, a teacher greeting students getting off the bus asked children what they missed about school over the summer. Many children breezed by her with blurry words of friends missed, play time at recess and the like. There was one little boy who stood by her, waiting for everyone to get into the school. When the crowd had cleared, the little boy tapped her on the arm and whispered, "I missed eating." She looked at the little one and realized how gaunt and rail-thin he was.

Through tears, the teacher relayed this information to FLOC while she was retrieving school supplies for her students. The following week, FLOC volunteers packed 40 bags to sustain 40 children for a weekend…and thus began a new mission.

FLOC currently serves City Day and Emerson Academy with this program, providing 20 Blessings in a Bag to each school monthly.

“I would love to give out more,” Saunders said. “I could easily give out 50 or more a month.”

During the week, many children in the Dayton area receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school. For some, these are the only meals they will have during the day, which leaves them at greater risk of hunger on the weekends and over school breaks. Winter break is right around the corner for local students, and so many children face the potential of little or no food during those two weeks away from school. This is where the Blessings in a Bag program can help.

FLOC is entirely dependent upon volunteers and community contributions to fund more than 10 programs, including everything from providing school supplies, a Christmas gift program and a special occasion boutique.

“When those breaks and weekends come, I want to make sure the students are going to continue to eat,” Saunders said. “Because, if you’re hungry, you’re not going to learn. You can’t learn if your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs. You can try to teach ABCs and 123s all day, but if you don’t meet a child’s basic needs, you’re really just talking to a brick wall.”

If you'd like to help feed children, so they have one less thing to worry about and can simply be a child and learn to read and write, FLOC is always looking for food and monetary donations to keep this vital program going. Visit FLOCDayton.org, or you can call (937) 223-3562 to learn how you can contribute to the program's mission.

For Love of Children