Let me introduce you to Nikki. She's the coordinator and backbone of The Full Tummy Project. With a desire in her heart to serve children and a vision to make a difference the project began small and has grown into something that schools just couldn't do without.
Nikki is as sweet as she is spirited. Friendly to everyone she meets and glowing with Jesus' love. It's no wonder she pours her heart into this project. It's just her nature.
Read below the words from Nikki, telling more about The Full Tummy Project, how it came about and how it serves the children who so desperately need it.
If you feel like your community and school system could use a program like Full Tummy, Nikki would be a wonderful resource about how to get started. Visit their website here.
"Let me start with a quick introduction: My name is Nikki and I LOVE food! I am the kind of person who can describe a dessert I ate years ago down to every last sprinkle because food makes that big of an impression on me. My passion for food has led to a calling to care for those in our community who go hungry. This passion ignited when I was in elementary school. That’s the first time I can remember my own father telling me about how hunger impacted his life as a child. One of my favorite stories to listen to him tell was about how he came to love brussel sprouts. As one of 8 children with parents who struggled to find steady work, there never seemed to be enough food to go around in my father's childhood home. Lunch at school was his favorite part of the day because friends around him would be too picky to eat everything on their plate, so my dad would always have something to eat. Brussel sprouts day was the best because no one liked the school lunchroom's brussel sprouts. My father would joyfully eat all the brussel sprouts from his friends' plates, and he would finally experience the satisfaction of being full for a few hours. While I often giggled at the thought of my father as a 10 year-old eating a mountain of brussel sprouts, something inside me also shouted, "That's not right!" every time I heard this story. Even then, I hated the thought of a child ever going hungry and knew that someone should do more than hand over a pile of unwanted brussel sprouts.
Five years ago, God made it clear that I was to be one of those someone's. I had the awesome privilege of serving in the recovery efforts after the April 27 tornadoes struck our community. I spoke to many people from all over the county who needed various types of assistance, but one grandmother still stands out in my memory. She was seeking help not because her home had been hit or even because she went without electricity for extended periods of time; in those regards, she continually acknowledged that her family had been blessed. She needed help simply because her grandchildren who lived with her had been out of school unexpectedly for over week. This family depended on the meals provided to the four children at the school to make their weekly grocery budget stretch. Now they were out of food because the children had not received those school meals. Thankfully, we were able to assist this family, but once again that little voice inside of me was angered that a family in our community would struggle just to feed its children when school is out. So I prayed that God would lead me toward doing more for families like these, and in that time of prayer I learned some startling statistics about hunger in our community.
I learned that in Alabama, 1 out of every 4 kids lives in a home where their parents struggle to put food on the table and the family does not always have enough to eat.
Not only is it heartbreaking to think about children going without meals, it is absolutely devastating to their future. The elementary years are absolutely crucial to a child’s future success. Researchers have noted a stunning array of physical, academic, and emotional effects of childhood hunger. You see, the child who doesn’t eat enough isn’t going to do as well in school. Even missing one meal can prevent a child from being able to focus and perform well in school, and 9 out of 10 teachers say that eating a healthy breakfast is key to a child’s ability to learn in the classroom. School nurses also report that more children are sent to their offices on Mondays from stomach aches than any other day of the week. This is the result of not eating enough, or not eating well, over the weekend, and these trips to the nurse cause them to miss valuable instruction time. Additionally, children who do not receive proper nutrition get sick more often and recover from illnesses more slowly. Children who regularly do not get enough nutritious food to eat tend to be more aggressive and anxious and are more likely to be suspended from school and have difficulty getting along with other kids. Ultimately, a child whose family struggles with food insecurity is less likely to graduate from high school. And a child who does not graduate from high school will struggle to feed his or her own family later in life.
To put it simply, hunger keeps kids from reaching their full potential. It’s an epidemic, worldwide and right here in our own community. But this is the exciting part. Hunger is an epidemic that has a cure! Do you know what that cure is? Food! It’s that simple! Good, nutritious foods cure hunger! And I believe that by providing food to a child who is going hungry, you doing more than filling a tummy; you’re changing a life.
That’s where the heart for Full Tummy Project came: a desire to change the lives of children and help them live the life God created them for. This community ministry started five years ago with only 20 children at Cowart Elementary, and since then God has brought more and more people on board and continued to increase the vision of this ministry. Now, more than 175 children in Athens City Schools are being served by the Full Tummy Project and every school in Limestone County is also served by local churches. We serve these children and their families by providing a small bag of food each weekend. These meal bags are delivered to the schools and sent home discreetly tucked into the child's backpack on Friday afternoon. As a ministry, we don't know the names or faces of any of the children who receive these bags. We are simply told by the schools how many children need the help, and we provide it. What we do know is that many children come to school on Fridays excited to receive their bag of food. We know that many parents contact the schools and let them know how much they appreciate the help. We know that the children who receive these bags come to school on Monday with the benefit of having been well-fed over the weekend. We know that these simple bags of food are filling tummies and changing lives.
Get your shirt to benefit The Full Tummy project here!