SPECIAL REPORT: Share Your Thanks-By-Giving

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - As we prepare for Thanksgiving and this holiday season, let's not forget those in our community who are hungry and in need of help.

65% of Muscogee County's school children are eligible for free or reduced lunch, while 36% of children across the river in Russell County live in poverty.

WTVM and Feeding the Valley teamed up to ask for your food donations through our Share Your Thanks By Giving campaign, and we'll show you how your donations really help.

Saidah Costine and her six kids eat at the Kids' Cafe at Wilson Homes just about every afternoon, and they're not the only ones.

Each day after school, these tables are full of children ready for a nutritious meal and a safe place to enjoy it.

Deborah Thomas and Peggy Mitchell are happy to know the children enjoy the food. They've worked at the Wilson Homes Kids' Cafe for more than seven years, and they know these meals don't just fill their tummies… they fill a void.

"Well I think it's very important cause some of these kids most of their parents be working and when they get out of school they come over here and eat," says Thomas. "When school starts back we get new families, we got 'bout five or six families when school started back."

This is one of seven Kids' Cafes in the Columbus-Phenix City area, serving 700 kids every day. Everyone is welcome to eat; the only requirement is that you must be enrolled in school.

Any adult who brings a child can eat too. The goal really is to feed anyone who's hungry, and statistics show that is an ever-growing number especially when it comes to children.

Numbers from the Georgia Food Bank Association show 1 in 5 Georgians are struggling with hunger, meaning in any given year about 700,000 children have been hungry without access to food. In Alabama the numbers are even more staggering and among the highest in the country with nearly seven percent of households in the state experiencing hunger over the last three years.

Babbs Douglas with Feeding the Valley says more people are turning to their programs for help.

"This year we are seeing people that are employed maybe a car breaks down maybe someone gets sick and all of a sudden that messes things up and all of a sudden do I fix my car," says Douglas. "I had a mom call me and she said I don't have money to buy macaroni and cheese I don't know what I'm going to do and I told her, we're going to make sure you get some food."

Saidah Costine definitely appreciates the help she gets from the kids cafe. She's a single working mom who says programs like this really make a difference for struggling families.

"We live here in Wilson apartments and hopefully one day we'll have our own home," Costine says. "I work really hard and having six kids is enough of, I'm not going to say a burden, but a handful."

She says a helping hand goes a long way, and you can help provide one for her family or maybe even your own some day by sharing your thanks by giving.

"Definitely donate," Costine says. "Everyone needs help especially during this season."

"And don't think that it can't happen to you, but the bottom line is it can happen and we will be there and there is hope," Douglas says. "There is hope for the hungry."

As you're out doing your Thanksgiving shopping, pick up an extra can of soup, jar of peanut butter, or box brownies and drop them off. Every little bit really helps to the stock the shelves of Feeding the Valley not just during the holidays but year-round.

You can drop off those non-perishable items at any participating Winn Dixie grocery store or here at our studios on Wynnton Road through Wednesday Nov. 21.

Copyright 2012 WTVM. All rights reserved.