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Cumberland County program helps feed students

Posted August 17, 2009
Updated August 18, 2009

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— As the new school year begins, children are stocking up on the basics: pencils, notebooks and backpacks. But many children in North Carolina need basic nutrition.

In Cumberland County, there are 550 children who are considered homeless, according to the school system.

Anna Fairley is a homeless mother who lives with her 6-month-old son, Sebastien, at the Salvation Army in Fayetteville. She works at a convenience store and said staying in a shelter is a temporary situation for her. She hit hard times due to a recent divorce, she said.

“Most of us are just down on our luck and need to get a little boost to get back on our feet,” Fairley said.

Denise Giles was once homeless too. Now, she works to help people like Fairley.

"We don't necessarily see the children riding next to our children on the school bus as homeless, or the mother working at Food Lion as homeless,” said Giles, director of the Cumberland County Interfaith Hospitality Network.

Giles' nonprofit regularly does a count of people living with no shelter in the county. A January 28 count showed 267 children living on the streets, she said.

“People living in storage units, living in tents,” Giles said. “I’ve seen them show up in cars, I’ve seen them show up on foot, carrying everything they own. I have visited them in storage units. I have seen them in abandoned buildings.”

Last week, she said a mother showed up at her door.

"She had been sleeping in her car with her two children and everything she owns,” Giles said of the woman.

Giles said that many of these children attend school, and some may have shelter but little food to eat.

“If these children are not fed, then how can you expect them to perform in everyday life?” said Linda Zema, founder of Hungry Angelz.

Zema works with children through the national Backpack Buddies program. As part of the affiliation, Zema and her volunteers meet at Fayetteville’s Pauline Jones Elementary to distribute packs of healthy food to nearly 500 children who need nutritional meals at home.

The effort helps children "from kindergarten right up through high school,” Zema said.

Currently, Zema has only four volunteers and is in need of more help.

"I could use a lot. I could really use a lot,” Zema said.

To find out more about Hungry Angelz, call 910-308-1374, or 910-425-8094, or e-mail: angelz4kids@gmail.com.

For more information on Backpack Buddies, which works with more than just homeless children, visit its Web site.


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