Volunteers with Mighty Moms sold jambalaya and baked goods and accepted food and monetary donations during their Full Tummy Project kickoff event Saturday outside the Denham Springs Sam’s Club.

The project aims to combat child hunger throughout Livingston Parish.

Dawn Birdsong, executive director of Mighty Moms, said the group is supported by “the good people of our community through financial donations, groceries and food.”

Birdsong said they’re never sure what they need to help area families because of the unknown circumstances surrounding the families they help.

“We don’t know if mom is going to be there to prepare it, and we want them to be able to access the food on their own,” said Kathleen Stephens, chairwoman of the Full Tummy Committee.

The statistics on childhood hunger have created an urgency in Birdsong and her team to find solutions to the problem.

“There are 26,000 kids in Livingston Parish schools, and we believe the statistics that one in five is living in a food-insecure home,” Birdsong said. “Which means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

Since beginning the Full Tummy Project, Birdsong and her team have made it into 39 of the 42 Livingston Parish schools. There are 26 delivery moms who pack bags monthly.

The monthly grocery bill of the organization is $10,000, and Birdsong explained the cost is about $5.50 a bag.

“We’ll spend less if we get food donated, which we love, and we keep track of the in-kind donations,” Stephens said. “We appreciate those as much as we do money, as long as it adds up to $10,000 so we can feed the kids.”

Birdsong said her eyes were opened to the reality of childhood hunger when she began to notice it in a friend’s neighborhood.

“Once my eyes were opened to that neighborhood, I began to see all these other neighborhoods, and then I began to work in a school as a math tutor,” Birdsong said. “Then I really saw what teachers see firsthand: kids who don’t have enough to eat.”

Charlene Lilly, board chairwoman, said hunger can manifest itself in various ways.

“Hunger shows itself in a lot of different ways. The kids who come to school in a bad mood on Monday, it could be because they’re hungry,” Lilly said. “It helps the school in a lot of different ways if you have a well-fed kid. They’re able to learn a lot better and they behave better.”

Families who accept food from the Mighty Moms are able to do so with complete privacy because of the partnership between Mighty Moms and the Livingston Parish School Board.

“The Livingston Parish School Board asked us to have a confidentiality clause,” Birdsong said. “The schools get the Mighty Mom permission slip signed, but we never get that back, unless we see somebody and they tell us. Little kids love to tell us, but I think older kids are a little bit more shy.”

The team behind the Full Tummy Project hopes to expand the project to serve even more hungry kids.

Lilly said the group has considered buying a food truck.

“We’ve always dog-eared funds for a food truck, but it has been difficult with getting a commercial kitchen and getting the food to the kids,” Lilly said. “I think it would be easier to identify where these kids are through the free and reduced lunch program, and come to them. This is year five for the Mighty Moms, and we’re just starting to gain some momentum.”

The Full Tummy Project has gotten reports that its efforts have reached beyond the schoolyard.

“People get our number off the website and child protection or the police will call us and say this family is in need,” Lilly said. “We’ve had police officers and social workers tell us thank you because there was just a Full Tummy bag left in the house. It makes us feel like what we’re doing is worthwhile.”

Mighty Moms is a Christian organization, with its members from different faiths and churches.

“We go to church in different places, but we all come together as a group of people who love Jesus,” Birdsong said. “That’s who we are; people know we love the Lord, and we love to love people because He loves us.”

Those interested in donating to the Full Tummy Project can contact the organization about dropping off food, contributing monetary donations or becoming a Project 100 sponsor by committing to a monthly pledge at mightymomsgo.org/get-involved/project-100.

Editor’s Note: This story was changed on July 29 to correct the cost of each donated food bag from $550 to $5.50.