Ministry Spotlight: Snack in a Backpack

He bought a minivan.  

The Friday morning pickup from the Atlanta Community Food Bank was getting too heavy for his old one. The boxes of granola bars, cans of sweet potatoes, and cartons of milk had outgrown it.

Specifically for Snack in a Backpack’s food runs, Miles Smith bought a teal Honda Odyssey. It is parked between the Sanctuary and Church School Building each Friday afternoon. Making runs to and from the van, down the amphitheater ramp and back up again, is Miles in his unmistakable yellow t-shirt. His pair of thick gloves and sturdy sneakers help him unload the weekly haul with ease.

The van has just come from West Atlanta, a route so familiar and a morning so routine. He knows the staff member at the check-in desk by name and can guess what food he might be able to snag, including its probable price and quantity. He knows which loading bay to park the van in and how the boxes should be stacked to ensure it all fits. He knows where to put the empty pallets once he’s done loading and can guess if he came in over or under budget.

 Miles checking in at ACFB.

Miles checking in at ACFB.

 Making a plan for loading. It's a Tetris-like art form.

Making a plan for loading. It's a Tetris-like art form.

 All packed!

All packed!

When the food arrives at Glenn, it is stored in a room behind the Ward Hall stage. A room whose organization and design now reflect Miles’ handiwork. A couple weeks ago, he spent days in that room. Miles reimagined the placement of shelves and installed new ones so that more food could be stored. He’ll take you on a tour of the storage room, too, and with pride. Walking through the aisles as if you were in a grocery store, he’ll point out how Snack in a Backpack tries to stock healthy options for the kids rather than just sugary snacks. He apologizes for a flat of canned peaches…they are packed in syrup.

Miles will tell you that this is his way of giving back. His contribution. Ask him to be a lay reader and he’ll tell you no. Ask him to serve on a committee and he’ll tell you no again. Not his set of gifts, he’ll say. What he can do, though, is take trips to the food bank and ensure that there is enough food to be packed in plastic bags on Thursday nights.

Miles is far from the only one who volunteers time and energy on behalf of this ministry. Most of the fresh fruit packed into the meals comes from Your DeKalb Farmers Market, faithfully purchased by Fleming James and Marion Dearing. Maintaining connections and communication with the schools and volunteers is handled by Deborah Marlowe and Jane Thorpe with patience and persistence. The Ward Hall has to be readied for packing with tables set up, bags set out, and plastic bins ready to fill, overseen by regular volunteers like Kathy Arvidson. And then the bags of food have to be dropped off at each school - Fentress Waits handles delivery at one, Georgia Messenger Service donates delivery to the largest school - and into the hands of those this ministry exists to serve.

 Fleming James with his fresh fruit delivery.

Fleming James with his fresh fruit delivery.

 Just a sampling of what kinds of food are packed.

Just a sampling of what kinds of food are packed.

 Deborah Marlowe (left) overseeing a Thursday night packing this summer.

Deborah Marlowe (left) overseeing a Thursday night packing this summer.

Since the spring of 2011, Snack in a Backpack has gone from serving one school to, this fall, serving five with the hope of adding a sixth. This growth from a handful of children to close to 250 has meant that dedicated volunteers are a gift. The success of this ministry, like all others at Glenn, relies on many hands and many coordinated tasks. The mission of Snack in a Backpack is simple and straightforward in concept: feed children. But week in and week out, it is a repeating cycle of collaboration and commitment and a hefty dose of care.

As the program grows and more children (and sometimes their families by extension) are fed, consider taking on a part in the process. You will not be asked to purchase a new vehicle. But you will be asked to come with a spirit open to being surprised at the ways you are able to give back. And as you work to feed children in this community, who knows, your soul might be fed as well.

If you'd like to begin serving with Snack in a Backpack, there are many roles to fill: food pick-up during the week, Thursday set-up and packing, and Friday drop-offs. Contact Deborah Marlowe to learn more.