Teachers look for children who show signs of chronic hunger to recommend them for the program.

Teachers look for children who show signs of chronic hunger to recommend them for the program.

A stomach grumble between meals or eating late in the day can seem like an inconvenience. But real hunger is when you don’t know when or if your next meal will come — and that’s a real issue.

Making sure no Hoover student experiences that chronic hunger feeling is the mission of Hoover Helps.

Started by Riverchase United Methodist Church member Greg Bishop, this non-profit program has continued to grow since launching in early 2015. It connects people, agencies, institutions, churches and other groups with those in need.

For example, Tyler Christiansen — associate pastor at Riverchase United Methodist Church — works with Greg and the program to create weekend backpacks full of food for Hoover students.

“A lot of people are intimidated because they don’t know how to start something to give back,” Christiansen explains. “With Hoover Helps, we’ll show you how not to reinvent the wheel each time.”

While Hoover is an affluent community, there are still needs many people don’t know about it. Maybe a family is going through a rough time where a parent lost a job, or a single parent is working three jobs just to make ends meet. With any case like this, there are children who might not have enough food, especially on the weekends when they aren’t at school.

“Hoover Helps fights the misconception that there isn’t much need here in Hoover,” Christiansen says. “People are startled when they realize the need, and rightfully so.”

Riverchase UMC works to help these children by creating weekend backpacks as part of Hoover Helps. They meet the first Wednesday of the month at 5 p.m. to pack bags with child-favorites like macaroni and cheese, pudding, fruit bars and ravioli. Any one is welcome to come and help.

“We want to make sure there’s not a child not getting fed, when clearly we have the resources and generosity in the community,” says Christiansen, who led a similar program in his last church.

One school that works with Hoover Helps is Rocky Ridge Elementary School, which has the highest rate of students on free or reduced lunches in Hoover, says Principal Dil Uswatte.

“We wanted to do something like this before, but we didn’t have the financial or personnel support,” she says. “Now, the churches, schools and community all get to come together.”

Teachers look for students with high levels of food insecurity, Uswatte says. That could show up as a child rushing the food line, asking when the next meal is, being hungry on Monday mornings, cracked lips or asking classmates for food. They have about 20 children who use the backpack program.

“They’re hungry. They need food, plain and simple,” she says. “For whatever reason, they don’t have what they need. If we can help just one child, it’s worth it.”

The students get a bag of food put in their backpacks on Fridays, but only the teachers and principal know who receives it.

It’s not just something for students who get free or reduced lunch at school. This anonymous program is meant to help any child in need.

“There’s no reason why in a city like ours we can’t help children in need,” Uswatte says. “We’re a great city: Let’s become even greater. Let’s not let anybody fall through the cracks.”

It currently costs $4.50 each week to feed one child, or $180 a school year.

To see how you can get involved with Hoover Helps or for more information, visit Hooverhelps.org.