By Melissa Betts

Often times, our heart strings are pulled when we see the commercials for providing aid to children in third world countries. The children who are living in poverty, malnourished and struggling. But how often do we stop to ask ourselves Are there struggling children in my community? In my neighborhood?

The answer is YES.

In the state of Alabama, there are NO counties that do not have families living in poverty.

Feeding America has food insecurity and child food insecurity data by county. Click here for the 2016 map. The Map the Meal Gap project uses 2014 US Census data. Check out the link to see where your county ranks!

  • For child-specific food insecurity (rates are much higher)

    US Rate: 20.9%
    Alabama Rate: 26.4%
    Highest % County: Wilcox county at 36.8%
    Lowest % County: Shelby county at 18.4%

  • For whole-household food insecurity

    US Rate: 15.4%
    Alabama Rate: 18.8%
    Highest % County: Wilcox county at 33.0%
    Lowest % County: Shelby county at 10.5%


In Cullman County, First United Methodist Church of Cullman has partnered with other local churches to form community Halos of Help.

  • In our county, we have eight different high school districts. Our church started a backpack feeding program, Knapsacks for Kids, after the April 2011 storms. Since that time, we have become aware of how large a problem food insecurity is in Cullman County.

  • Statistics provided by state there are 4,783 children in Cullman County who experience food insecurity at some point throughout the month.

In response to this staggering number, our Knapsack for Kids volunteers have pulled together and connected other churches and civic groups to begin serving in their local district. We call these helping rings, Halos of Help.

In 2015, there was very little organized assistance for those who were food insecure. But today, all eight districts/halos have established teams ready to serve:

  • City of Cullman – Cullman FUMC & Alabama Credit Union
  • Cold Springs – Alabama Credit Union
  • Fairview – Fairview FUMC, Baileyton UMC & Alabama Credit Union
  • Good Hope – Good Hope Baptist Church & Day Star Church
  • Hanceville – Hanceville FUMC (plus 12 other churches they have recruited)
  • Holly Pond – Holly Pond UMC
  • Vinemont – Vinemont Baptist Church & Northbrook Baptist Church
  • West Point – West Point Baptist Church & Bethlehem West Baptist Church

School administrations, community leaders and families can now work through this “Halo” system to receive help. We run all our efforts through the community where the need originates. So, if a school counselor in Holly Pond is seeking assistance for a family/child, they now know they can contact Rev. Scott Haygood of Holly Pond UMC. Pastor Haygood has a relationship with his school leaders and knows what resources are available to his community. It is the same concept of an old fashion barn raising, someone has a need, another has supplies and the community partners to take care of one another.

In the Fall of 2016,

several of our Knapsacks for Kids advocates worked to form a 501c3 to assist these local feeding programs with funding, resources and awareness. We call this organization ALAbundant.

ALAbundant’s mission is to end child hunger in Alabama. This is a problem that CAN be solved and together we can do it.

We believe if we partner our natural resources, our intellect and our compassion, we can conquer this problem.

It defiantly “looks” like a David and Goliath story as we navigate the state, but being the believer I am, I know who won that battle…. the Lord.

Here is how you can help!

Consider being a Summer Feeding Site

Lydia Locke at Aldersgate UMC (Huntsville) is a wealth of knowledge about how to set up a feeding site at your church. Almost anywhere can become a “site” and it is completely FREE.
Fun Fact: A local congregation purchased an old school bus, added some coolers and went from neighborhood to neighborhood feeding children throughout the summer. The kids ate “picnic style” outside the bus. We United Methodist could put our church buses to work this summer. Contact Laurel Moffatt if you are interested in becoming a feeding site. She works out of the North Alabama Food Bank in Huntsville, which serves 11 counties in North Alabama. If they do not cover your county, they will know who does. Deadline for site registration is May 1.

Christmas Sunday 2017

ALAbundant has created a yearly event to raise awareness and funds to help end child hunger in Alabama, Christmas Sunday. We are currently working through Governor Kay Ivey’s office to secure a 2017 Proclamation that will declare the 2017 Advent Season as a “Season to End Child Hunger.” Christmas Sunday 2017 will be recognized throughout the State on Sunday, December 24. If your congregation would like to participate in Christmas Sunday 2017, please contact Ben Johnson, ALAbundant Advocacy Director

Partner with a local school

Schools need so many different types of partnerships: food insecurity partnerships, clothing/shoe resources, and monetary, just to name a few.  School administrators are truly leaders, admins, counselors, social workers all wrapped into one or two people. What can your congregation help with?

Welti Cumberland Presbyterian is located right across the street from their closest Elementary school. Since school has early release one Wednesday a month, the church decided to offer an after school program for children whose parents work and need care for the rest of the day. They have developed new relationships with families and it is growing their church body.

Partner with others in your community

If your schools or community have people who are already on the ground serving, call them and connect with them.

I think about Baileyton UMC when I think about a church who is serving like a GIANT in their community. Baileyton is a small town located in the Fairview School District. I am almost positive there is no traffic light in Baileyton, but there is a backpack program for Parkside Elementary School. The women of Baileyton UMC took their vision of feeding children to their town leaders, and asked the leaders to help them organize a community fun day to raise money to start their program.

When I spoke to their program director, Rhonda Vanzant, last week, she told me they are about to complete the school year with more funds than they started the program with last year. They feel so good about saying yes to feeding children again for the 2017-18 school year.

*This article originally appeared on the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church blog.

About Melissa

Melissa Betts is the children’s minister and SERVE ministries director at Cullman First United Methodist Church, and director of Knapsacks for Kids.

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