LIVINGSTON — Having students who are well-nourished and in a safe learning environment is essential to their overall well-being and academic growth.

That's why educational leaders with Livingston Parish public schools are partnering with the Livingston Parish Library system and Mighty Moms, a local volunteer organization, to support the after-school program Feeding Young Minds, a news release said.

The program, which originally was spearheaded by Mighty Moms over the summer, provides students with a free snack and drink and a safe haven to get homework done or take part in educational programs.

"Our district is actively seeking ways to reach outside our schools, beyond our campus boundaries and into our communities to positively impact our students," said Sommer Purvis, assistant director of child nutrition. "Our goal is to ensure all our students have an opportunity to learn and develop in a safe environment. The Feeding Young Minds program allows us to utilize existing resources to do just that."

Purvis said the program expanded to include all five libraries in the parish, and it is expected to serve as many as 100 students each week. The expansion has been made possible largely in part to Purvis' ability to access funding through the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"When we first looked into the USDA program, our biggest concern was whether we could staff the food distribution and did we have access to venues that would allow us to effectively reach students after school hours. Those questions were answered when we saw a Facebook post by Mighty Moms this past summer," Purvis said.

Dawn Birdsong, the founder of Mighty Moms, had announced her organization was handing out food bags at the Denham Springs-Walker Library Branch over the summer. Purvis connected with Birdsong and her board, which included other district educators who quickly helped to establish the partnership.

"This collaboration is allowing us to bridge a real gap that exists for many," said Juban Parc Junior High Assistant Principal Justin Wax, who serves as a volunteer board member for Mighty Moms.

"Those who are economically disadvantaged can tie their condition to educational deficits," Wax said. "This program motivates these disadvantaged kids and parents to spend more time in the library and gain more exposure to knowledge and learning, which hopefully will go a long way in helping them break the cycle of poverty."

Wax said he is working with other assistant principals, counselors and school librarians across the parish to help staff the Feeding Young Minds sessions at the library closest to their schools.

"It's an opportunity to socialize with students and their parents and connect with them in a meaningful way," Wax said. "We are already starting to see better established relationships between students and volunteer educators. They come in to get their snacks, and they chat with the school counselor or assistant principal who is there."

"It's a chance for our students to see these school administrators and teachers in a setting outside their paid jobs. We want them to know that we care about them enough to take time from our own families and free time to be with them," Wax said.

The weekly Feeding Young Minds schedule, at each parish library, is:

  • Main Branch: 20390 Iowa St., Livingston; 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesdays
  • Denham Springs-Walker Branch: 8101 U.S. 190, Denham Springs; 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays
  • Watson Branch: 36581 Outback Road, Watson; 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. first and third Tuesdays
  • Albany-Springfield Branch: 26941 La. 43, Albany; 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. first and third Wednesdays
  • South Branch: 23477 La. 444, French Settlement; in conjunction with other scheduled activities at the library.

Volunteers for Mighty Moms hope to create a mobile unit to delivery snacks and educational materials to homes in the area because of the sprawling, rural nature of the area, the release said.

Wax said Mighty Moms is always seeking volunteers for the program, and the organization needs volunteer mechanics who can restore a bus to be used to deliver food to homes in the southern part of the parish. He said those interested can contact Mighty Moms at (225) 435-9195 or by email at info@mightymomsgo.org. More information about the organization can be found at www.mightymomsgo.org.