Photo by Rich Smith
Food insecurity in our area is a huge problem as, unfortunately, many families experience hardships that limit their ability to provide the balanced, nutritional meals that children need to grow up happy and healthy. According to Feeding America, over 12,000 children in Hamilton County faced food insecurity in 2020. This is why Janice Robertson founded the Snack Pack Ministry in 2014 at her place of worship, East Brainerd Church of Christ. “I was made aware that there were students at a local high school who were leaving school on Friday and possibly going without food until they came back on Monday,” she recalls. “My heart ached, and I knew I had to do something.”
The Snack Pack Ministry is a group of volunteers who pack bags of food that students in need can take home with them. “Now, in our ninth year, we are up to 2,500 bags per week. I am the fundraiser and my right hand helper, Anita Kapperman, buys all the food!” Robertson shares. “None of the food is donated, and if we pack 10,000 bags, we need 100,000 individually-wrapped food items.”
Running this program, she says, has opened her eyes to what a kind and giving community we have in Chattanooga. “I’ve been surprised by the servant hearts of so many people who show up to help us,” she says. “I think my favorite thing has been watching our great community of people come together to support us in packing the Snack Packs. We have a multitude of different ages, different religious views, different ethnic backgrounds, and it is a joyful, fun-filled time when we pack.”
In addition to the sense of community she has gained, Robertson has also had memorable experiences with the students that Snack Pack Ministry has helped. “The children who receive the Snack Packs are identified by their teachers, a counselor, or the principal, so we usually don’t get to meet them personally,” she explains. “But I was invited to come to a kindergarten class at one of the schools that gets the Snack Packs, because they had written thank you notes and wanted to share them. I was in tears listening to them read their notes to us.”
Since the program started, it has grown to support students throughout Hamilton County and meet even more needs. “We also have helped some of the schools with clothing closets that offer sweatshirts, sweaters, socks, and underwear for some elementary schools,” Robertson elaborates. “We provide a Christmas gift for each child at Christmas, we have furnished school supplies, and we have helped individual families that might need some extra help.” Their ministry has also helped other churches establish similar programs, with the hope that one day all children in our community will have their needs met.