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Evans County program feeds 20,000 kids
W summer feeding 007
Shiffonda Weaver, standing, helped serve children at the Rolling Oaks I Apartments. - photo by Special

       CLAXTON - Serving nearly 20,000 meals since the beginning of June, Evans County's Summer Food Service Program is one way Nutrition Director Tonya Blocker helps fulfill the needs of the children in her community.
      The program ended Friday, but actually ran three weeks longer than usual because of the increased number of participants this year, Blocker said. The program sometimes fed 800 to 900 children per day.
      "Many people don't understand that this program is not for the poor," Blocker said. "That is a misconception. This program is for any child from birth to age 18."
      Blocker has served as school nutritionist in Evans County for the past 12 years. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in home economics education in 1993, a Masters in adult and vocational education in 1996, both from Georgia Southern University, and a Doctorate of Education in Ed. Leadership in 2005 from NOVA.
      When school is in session, Blocker plans for 1,500 lunches and 750 breakfasts per day. The need for providing nutritious meals to county-wide students, however, doesn't end with the school year, Blocker said.
      Through a program offered by USDA and an eager-to-serve lunchroom manager, the Summer Food Service Program began in 2004, Blocker said. Geneva Thomas headed the program from its inception, until she retired from the school system last year. Blocker said that another lunchroom manager, Marie Kessler, took a lead in helping to organize and oversee the summer program this year.
      Blocker, along with several staff members and volunteers, operate 19 feeding sites across the county, providing lunches at summer enrichment programs, parks, public housing, churches and other locations. Meals were prepared and assembled at Claxton High School, and then carried to the appropriate site and dispersed to the kids. Breakfast was even served at several sites this summer.
      "We saw a need to offer the program to our kids here in Evans County," Blocker said, "and as long as federal funding continues, we will continue to provide the service."
      Blocker saw a significant increase in participation since the economy has weakened.
      "In many homes, we provide the only nutritious meal that some of these children receive each day," she said.
During her work as director, Blocker has determined hunger as one of the most severe roadblocks to learning.
      "Lack of nutrition during the summer months may set up a cycle for poor performance once school begins," she said. "Hunger may also make children more prone to illness."
      Blocker's passion to serve the children of Evans County fuels her drive to "fill that nutrition gap and prepare them to enter the classroom ready to learn."
      The program ended just in time to give staff members a break before returning next Friday to begin getting ready for the new school year.

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