Feeding the Future: Sermon moves couple to help local students
In church one Sunday, listening to their pastor talk about needs in the community, residents Mike and Colby Miller were a bit surprised to learn that some children in Flagstaff go without food on a regular basis. They did little research on the topic and said they were “heartbroken” by what they discovered.
More than a quarter of all children in Coconino County suffer food insecurity — not having enough or the appropriate food to grow and lead healthy lives. According to census data, about one in every three children in the county lives in poverty, and 40 percent qualify to receive free or reduced-fee school lunches through federal nutrition programs. Factors that contribute to food insecurity and hunger in the county include a high child poverty rate, higher unemployment rates in outlying areas of Flagstaff, cost of food and trouble with access to food, especially in smaller communities surrounding Flagstaff.
After the Millers found out that a great number of local children receive school breakfast and lunch assistance, they wondered, “How are they being fed over the weekend?”
“The mere thought of one of our children not having anything to eat for a length of time is just unimaginable,” said Mike Miller, talking by phone from Mexico where he, his wife and two of their children were with Amor Ministries spending spring break building homes for the needy.
In 2014 the Millers started Feeding Northern Arizona’s Future, a non-profit run entirely by volunteers that provides food packages for children to take home from school. They started with eight students in the Flagstaff Unified School District. Now, more than 380 students in Flagstaff and Williams are receiving FNAF packages each week of the school year.
The packages contain six meals and a few snacks and are made as light as possible, so kids can easily carry them home. The Millers said giving children the food is a simple way to assist working parents who may not have the means or time to shop or go to a food bank.
Studies show that children who don’t have enough to eat suffer physical ailments and lack mental focus — their school work lags and they are not as happy as other kids. Mike said those who receive help from food programs show improved test scores and reduced absenteeism.
The Millers had not known much about running a non-profit, but said their family was moved to act by a simple motto: “We can’t do everything, but we’re expected to do everything we can.”
And like others who work behind the scenes to help their neighbors and community, they don’t see themselves as heroes.
“We’re just doing what needs to be done,” said Colby. “It’s not about us. It’s about the kids. We’re trying to make a difference for them, in their lives.”
Feeding Northern Arizona’s Future has a cadre of community volunteers and sponsors that step up with donations and assistance.
“No one can do this kind of work alone,” said Mike, who estimates that his family spends 10 to 15 hours a week with the program.
As for where they find their inspiration, the couple said they were taught growing up that “when people need help, you help.” It’s that simple. They also said their Christian faith and their church, Christ Church of Flagstaff, are models for living lives of charity and generosity.
To donate to or become a volunteer with Feeding Northern Arizona’s Future, please visit www.fnazf.org.