Burke County, Georgia is home to the AAA State Champion Burke County High School Bears, who overcame not only opponents on the field, but crushing poverty and physical hunger. Coach Eric Parker attributes much of the team’s success to the federally-funded Healthy Hunger-Free Kids program, which helps feeds 500 students at the cost of $3 per meal.
Burke took control of the game midway through the third period, moving 79 yards in eight plays and scoring the equalizer on Green’s 35-yard run and Mayton’s two-point run.
The Bears pulled ahead on Mayton’s 1-yard run with 21 seconds left in the third period, and Green’s 13-yarder put the game away at the 2:48 mark in the fourth.
Before Burke County instituted the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids program, such a victory would have been unthinkable for a team whose players were weakened by chronic malnutrition.
Seventeen-year-old defensive lineman Jessie Bush remembers how different things were just four years ago. “A lot of people – they was hungry, tired, and sleepy sometimes.”
Those were signs that his coach Eric Parker recognized as the dangerous symptoms of dehydration and malnutrition.
“We had kids who literally by Tuesday had to be removed from practice because of the intensity and the amount of energy they were having to expend,” Parker said.
The idea that some students might be going to school or practice hungry probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Burke County, Georgia – one of the poorest counties in the country – where 48 percent of kids live below the poverty line.
Coach Parker knew the school needed to do something. So he met with Donna Martin – the school nutritionist. Martin said Parker told her, “Our kids need more calories – they’re falling out by the end of the fourth quarter and we need more calories – what can we do? Wouldn’t it be great if we could feed them supper?”
“I’m not going to cut the nutrition program and what it did for us short at all,” Parker said. “I thought it was a big part of our success.” He added there’s “no doubt” the nutrition program played a part in the big win. It gave them a sweet victory on and off the field.
Good people can disagree over the role of the federal government in feeding the poor, but I believe we each have a personal duty to help our neighbor.
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:34-40
Whether you agree or disagree that this is a role to be performed by government, this is a time of year to consider how you can help feed someone else.