Michelle Smart raises funds for secret meals

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Finally, she replied, “Well, I’ll be hungrier later.”

Realizing this student faced a weekend without food, her teacher contacted Secret Meals for Hungry Children, an organization that anonymously delivers three-and-a-half pound food packs to 
underprivileged students.

“We want to keep them protected and help them to understand that someone out there is thinking about them, even though we don’t really know who they are,” said Michelle Smart, the program assistant for Secret Meals.

Smart’s job is focused on creating fundraising events to raise money for the Secret Meals program, a partnership between the Alabama Credit Union and the West Alabama Food Bank, that serves 2,500 students statewide. A large portion of those who benefit from the brown paper bags – 1,100 to be exact – live right here in the Tuscaloosa area.

Though the credit union provides funding for the program and never deducts from donations to cover operational costs, Smart still must raise 
$300,000 annually.

“It costs $140 to feed a child for an entire school year,” Smart said. “The food bank needs a check, and if for some reason we weren’t able to meet that goal, that would ultimately be a crisis in my eyes because the kids wouldn’t be getting their food packs on Friday.”

A native of Grand Bay, Alabama, and graduate of The University of Alabama’s public relations 
program, Smart began working with Secret Meals as a student. She was part of a communications class that challenged her to create a fully branded fundraising project for an outreach program in Tuscaloosa. Smart fell in love with the work of Secret Meals and began interning with the Alabama Credit Union while still in college, eventually being hired by them prior 
to graduation.

“It’s a great program, and as a PR professional I value any organization that places social responsibility so high on their priority list,” she said. “I had options to go elsewhere, I guess. The Secret Meals effort really is what made me decide to make a career out of working at the credit union.”

There’s always been a need for a food assistance program in the state, she said. One in five Alabamians go hungry, which is higher than the national average of – one in six.

Through Secret Meals, teachers identify those who show signs of malnourishment, such as hoarding food at lunchtime or overeating during the last meal on Friday. Volunteers deliver the food packages to be discreetly slipped into the children’s backpacks 
during recess.

Linda Lightsey, Smart’s colleague at the Alabama Credit Union, said she knows Smart’s dedication to the program well.

“You see that children are being fed, but people don’t see all the work that goes on behind the scenes – all the banners, push cards, every event that has to be planned, everything that has to be loaded up every time and taken to that event and then brought back,” Lightsey said. “It’s quite impressive to think that we’re feeding that many children every weekend.”

Helping others in the community is nothing new for Smart, she said She recently started work on another project called “Jehovah Jireh,” or “God will provide.” This effort raises money for families in the process of adopting children. Smart’s program is already 
fundraising for five families.