Food insecurity is a much greater problem than most Georgians would ever imagine.
Carla Harward, an attorney who retired and moved to Trion several years ago, took it on herself to do something about the combination of food waste in schools and making sure that children across the state don’t go hungry.
An estimated one in six children across Georgia, more than 400,000, are considered food insecure, according to Harward. At the same time, schools across the state have been throwing away thousands of tons of food.
That number exceeds 530,000 tons every year across the country.
Harward created Helping Hands Ending Hunger back in 2016 after fighting regulations of the Department of Public Health and Department of Education that only a trained lawyer could have overcome.
The program was developed after Harward learned that so many children were struggling with getting a regular meal.
During her presentation to the Rome Rotary Club, Harward related the story of a family that had been seen digging through garbage after a Friday night football game.
“People knew the family had issues but no one knew the extent of the struggle,” Harward said.
Poor nutrition also leads to medical issues ranging from diabetes to high blood pressure and obesity. It also has a significantly negative impact on the performance of children in the classroom.
With schools throwing away so much food virtually every day, Harward’s daughter Sophie wondered why it couldn’t be put to other uses. The school nutrition director in Trion brought Harward a complete notebook explaining the rules that governed use of excess food.
After fighting all the way through the upper echelons of the Department of Public Health and Department of Education, Harward won the chance for students to rescue uneaten food from school cafeterias and join hands with their communities to battle food insecurity.
Since starting the program in Chattooga County, Harward has taken it all over the state and fed more than a million meals, 715 tons of food, to more than 34,200 families and close to 120,000 individuals.
The program was started at Rome High recently and the Communities in Schools program in Rome and Floyd County has also become a partner, helping with both food collection and donations.
“We have happier, healthier kids coming to schools,” Harward said. “They are actually coming to school, attendance has improved and school climates are changing as a result.”