Without this Gaston County program, some kids would go hungry on school breaks

Fourteen years ago, an idea emerged when Preston and Martha Taylor drove past a group of children on break from school.

Martha Taylor recalls her husband saying, “I wonder what those children are going to have for lunch?” Many kids eat both breakfast and lunch at school, and he worried that they went hungry on breaks.

To fill that void, the Taylors started a program that delivers lunches to children during winter and spring breaks.

“My husband likes to cook and I like to organize things, so it’s a good match,” Martha Taylor said.

The program – Feeding the Children – began with 60 meals per day. Now it’s grown to include four elementary schools in Belmont and more than 300 meals per day.

Lunches are cooked and packaged at First United Methodist Church in Belmont. Each meal has a main dish – such as chicken or pizza – fruit, vegetable and a treat. The food is paid for using donations, but Martha Taylor said sometimes she and her husband spend their own money if they want the children to have something special.

The children don’t have to qualify for free and reduced lunch to receive the meals – a form is sent home and parents select the number of days and lunches they’d like delivered. Meals are delivered on weekdays, when children would normally eat at school.

Martha Taylor estimates about 100 volunteers cook, package and deliver the lunches. Many Belmont residents also bring their children and grandchildren to help during the holidays.

“Whoever God sends us to help and whoever he gives us to feed, that’s the way we feel about it,” she said. “It’s a blessing for children to see that everyone’s not taken care of the way they’ve been.”

Rob Hixson, 23, has volunteered with Feeding the Children every year since he was 9 years old. He now lives in Richmond, Va., but returns to Belmont to help out during the holidays.

“This time should be about giving and family, and there are kids that aren’t getting the food they need over the holidays,” he said.

Hixson is a member of First Presbyterian Church of Belmont, and he said Feeding the Children hopes to use the church’s kitchen in the future to serve more schools.

On Friday, volunteers Richard and Pamela Murawa delivered 26 meals to six homes on their route.

When they arrived at one home, four children ran to the car to collect their lunches. Martha Taylor said it’s taken a long time to earn that trust.

“(Parents) thought we’d do it and they’d have to pay for it,” she said. “Now they know we really do give away the food and bring it to them, so we know the children get it.”

She hopes the program will continue even after she and her husband are unable to manage it.

“It’s a good feeling to know you’ve helped somebody,” she said. “It’s also a witness to other people that just because you don’t know quite how to do something doesn’t mean you can’t get started.”

Jane Little: @janelittle26; 704-358-5101