Macaroni and cheese, broccoli, pizza, and spaghetti and meatballs—one community member opened her cupboards and her heart to prepare home cooked, hot meals for hundreds of Griffin Middle School students over the summer.
While her son was a student, Malinda Owensby volunteered frequently at Campbell High School, and she decided not to let her son’s 2017 graduation end her efforts to feed kids in need.
So, she went on a search through the Smyrna community for a way to feed students over the summer. Forget the sack lunches. She wanted to serve students hot meals.
At a community meeting, Owensby learned about Griffin Middle School’s plan for a summer camp for students.
“This is the first year we have done the camp, and when we were starting to think about it, we weren’t quite sure how we were going to feed the kids,” explained Chloe Dale, a seventh grade math teacher at Griffin. “Out of the goodness of her heart, Ms. Owensby volunteered to provide food for the students for all three weeks of the camp.”
Each week, about 175 students participated in the camp designed for rising sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth graders. Some students arrived on buses. Some came all three weeks. The camp, which ran from 8:00 a.m. to noon, focused on math and English language arts.
Food may not have been part of the equation if Owensby had not volunteered.
“[Ms. Owensby] did a wide variety of meals,” Dale said. “[The second week] she brought sack lunch with sandwiches, crackers, fruit and a juice box, and she sent them home with the students. So, if they had any siblings or if they wanted to have another meal later, they were all able to. Most of the students got two or three sack lunches to bring home.”
The students, who had already eaten Owensby’s hot meal, were very excited by the take-home sack lunches and talked about how their younger siblings were going to love the food.
“I was really appreciative of Ms. Owensby providing the lunches for us the three weeks,” eighth grader Lucas said. “It was really nice.”
He described the food as nutritious, and fellow camper Kaliyah declared the food “super delicious.”
“It was super sweet of her to take her time and make us all lunch,” the sixth grader said. “I gave her a pin. I made up this thing and the tiger [on the pin] is for good luck and thank you.”
The Griffin students made Owensby thank you cards, but Dale suspected the volunteer would never understand the extent of the staff and students’s gratitude.
“Everyone at Griffin would like to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Dale said. “This camp has gone so well, and it wouldn’t be the same having to send the kids home without a meal.”
Campbell High JROTC instructor Kathryn Burns isn’t surprised by Owensby’s actions at Griffin. Burns had seen Owensby’s volunteer efforts at Campbell.
“Every time we had something, she was that one parent who was there, whether it was feeding the kids lunches at competition, bringing in gifts or getting to know the kids personally to see how she could help,” Burns explained.
For Burns, Owensby serves as an example of how parents can impact the community. It was at Campbell that Owensby first recognized that some students do not have the same access to food.
After her son attended his first JROTC competition, she learned the students were not fed at the competitions unless they had money to go to the concession stand. She knew not all students could afford food from the concession stand. That’s why she started providing the students pizza at all their events.
“It is not just about my son. This is a community, and I care about all the kids in the community,” Owensby explained. “I cannot imagine any of my kids being hungry. So, I wouldn’t want anyone else’s kids to go hungry.”
Buying pizzas for members of the JROTC is one thing, feeding 175 Griffin students for 12 camp days requires a lot more food and a larger facility than a home kitchen. Owensby requested to use the kitchens at Life Church, which is close to Griffin. She prepped all the meals in her kitchen at home and would cook the large meals at the church before driving the food to the school. The teachers helped the lone volunteer serve the steaming food to the students.
To pay for the meals, Owensby sold candy bars with the help of some of her friends, but the money she raised didn’t cover the cost of all the food. The remaining funds? Another gift from the determined school volunteer.
“As a parent you have to care about more than just your family,” she said. “You have to be able to give back because there are so many people who need it.”
Owensby, who didn’t have a connection to Griffin Middle School prior to volunteering over the summer, was delighted to see the kids happy as she served them hot meals. The hugs and thank yous made it all worth it for her.
She plans to be back at Campbell volunteering during the school year, and she’ll be on the hunt for a way to feed more kids next summer.
“The phrase that says each one gives one, I changed that phrase,” Burns said. “[Ms. Owensby] is one that gives to hundreds. [The Griffin camp] is just an example of how one person can make a big difference.”