Community fights hunger among children and young adults - | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Community fights hunger among children and young adults

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Local organizations in the Billings community are working together to combat hunger among children and young adults.

"Teachers and principals from title one schools start telling us that a lot of kids from low-income families who relied on free meals during the school week, that ate at school, actually went hungry on evenings and weekends and over school holidays," Virginia Mermel said.  

Virginia Mermel is the BackPack Meals and Teen Pantry Programs coordinator in Billings. She said 41% of kids in Billings public schools rely on free or reduced-cost meals. That's about 6,000 kids. Out of the 41%, Mermel said 8-10% of the child's family struggles to eat on the weekends or holidays.

"Keeping kids fed, fit, and ready to learn so that they can grow up to be adults who are ready to earn is part of what we're all about."

The program sends food in backpacks with kids to their homes. She said this weekend, they're sending over 400 backpacks with students in Billings public schools.

Imagine opening your refrigerator with nothing to eat. Mermel said stopping hunger is a group effort.

"When someone doesn't have the next meal, they will do almost anything," Erika Willis said.

Tumbleweed is an organization in Billings that plays a part in making sure young adults are fed. Executive Director Erika Willis said the organization serves 81 trafficking young-adult victims, whether it's sex or labor, that are mostly from the Billings community.

"About half of the time, the first time when the young person was trafficked, they would say it was either for a place to stay or for something to eat," Willis said. "So we know that by providing access to food, either through the schools or in our food pantry, we're reducing that vulnerability by half."

Churches are participating as well. Take Evangelical United Methodist Church. The church donates their collection of food on the first Sunday each month.

"We just saw that it was a need and it was something that we could help with."

Gary Thomas is a member of the church and delivers food to Billings Senior High School. He said the fight to end hunger is worth it.

"I wish it would grow. I wish i had more food to take over there because you wouldn't believe how thankful they are."

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