By: Marietta Daily Journal

In a continued effort to reach more school children and their families in need, MUST Save It Forward opened its 30th school food pantry at Garrett Middle School in South Cobb.

The new pantry is part of an expansion in the South Cobb area, funded in part by United Way of Greater Atlanta. Although Cobb has traditionally been considered an affluent county, there are pockets of food deserts in South Cobb and neighborhoods where the United Way’s Child Well-Being Index is lowest.

Cobb County has 46 Title One Schools and there are nine in the City of Marietta Schools, according to Dr. Ike Reighard, president and CEO of Marietta-based MUST Ministries.

In the past year, MUST has served 3,200 students and their families through the school pantry program, providing approximately 75 pounds of groceries and household supplies each month. The food and supplies are procured through food donation drives as well as a unique electronic coupon process supported by volunteers who shop weekly and donate these items.

“Children cannot grow, thrive and learn when they are hungry. Hunger affects children’s social interaction and productivity, and hunger is linked to poor academic performance,” Reighard said. “Unfortunately, in Cobb County (Georgia’s second largest school system) almost 50,000 of the 112,000 students receive free or reduced lunch and often do not have food at home for other meals outside school. In the area’s poorest schools, that total is even higher, with 85-100 percent of the children facing food insecurity.”

This community collaboration begins with school counselors identifying families in need and referring to MUST to get started. Volunteers provide support for monthly distribution.

“MUST is focused on eliminating hunger for at-risk students in local schools so they may have a greater opportunity to succeed in both school and life,” Reighard said. “We know hunger affects social behavior, grades, propensity to succeed, relationships and other vital aspects of a child’s life. Overall improvement has been reported and it’s so encouraging. We are deeply grateful to those in our amazing community who are already supporting this important family program and hope others will want to help as well.”

In the past year, MUST has distributed 269,465 pounds of food and toiletries to students and their families.