By Dudley K. B. Franklin

Dudley Franklin
Dudley Franklin

What does summer mean to you? For me, as a child, it was early morning swim practices, family trips to faraway places, camp, time with friends, and freedom. I was blessed; summer was a gift.

As a teen, I was a counselor for middle school students in a downtown housing project. Somehow, I ended up leading, well, the discipline problems. This group of boys, whose eyes were pools of mistrust and anger mixed with flecks of a longing to be known, would stare, unblinking, daring me to walk away.

But, I was young and stubborn so I stared back, unwilling to back down. It was not the plan, but after a week or so, they chose me to be their counselor.

For four summers we shared the gift of summer. We were at camp during the week, and on weekends I would drive them to faraway places to bake cookies, swim in the lake, and eat. They would beg for the buffet at the Golden Corral. Back then, I actually had to look it up in the phone book, unfold the map and follow the gridlines until I found it. We would pile into my car and head for a distant strip mall where they would eat and eat and, you guessed it, eat.

Now I work for a nonprofit with a food pantry, and I am no longer that naïve girl driving to the suburbs for yeast rolls and roast beef. Now I know that it wasn’t just a special treat. Now I know that “my” boys were hungry.

In Georgia, more than 700,000 children are food insecure (Feeding America), meaning their access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources. In Atlanta Public Schools, 75 percent of students receive a free or reduced-price lunch (Georgia Department of Education.)

For these families, summer is not a gift; it is a daily struggle to provide, complicated by the extra expenses of childcare, transportation and more meals to put on the table.

Summer is the great divide, when givers are distracted by the magic of these 76 days, but families in need are struggling to simply keep afloat. Low-income families need Buckhead Christian Ministry’s food pantry to be full, but in 2012, the average number of bags donated between June and September was 37 percent lower than the rest of the year.

At BCM, we give about 1,500 bags of groceries each month, and last year, we spent about $59,000 to keep our pantry stocked. The summer slowdown accounted for more than half of this spending. This matters because with that money, we could have prevented more than 100 people from becoming homeless, and 80 percent of them would have been children.

What does summer mean to you? I hope it means lifelong memories and as many meals as you can eat.

And, I hope that as you and your family enjoy the gift of summer, you will give a little bit of it away by donating to the food pantry at Buckhead Christian Ministry.

Dudley K. B. Franklin is development director for Buckhead Christian Ministry.