Our childhoods should be one of the happiest times in or lives. Yes, there are awkward moments, like losing our teeth, but there are also childhood figures that bring us joy, like Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and Elmo, or Kermit and Miss Piggy.
Childhood should not mean having to worry about where your next meal is coming from. Unfortunately, millions of children and their families are struggling with hunger. But no kid, no kid, should have to endure not having enough to eat, because “hunger cuts childhood short.”
For the more than 16 million children who suffer with hunger, in silence, the good news is, this is a problem that we, as a nation, can and should solve.
Food Insecurity is the Primary Cause
The problem is the result of food insecurity, which is limited or uncertain availability of safe foods. In the present economy, families are struggling to balance their financial obligations, with putting gas in their cars and food on the table.
It becomes especially difficult when school is out for the summer and households must now also provide food for breakfast and lunch, further stressing their budgets.
According to feedingamerica.org, food insecurity exists in every county in the United States, from a low of 5% in Steele County, North Dakota to a high of 37% in Holmes County, Mississippi.
You might ask: I’m sorry that so many children are hungry, but why is that my problem?
Share Our Strength is a charity whose focus is on ending child hunger. In 2013, they surveyed teachers throughout the country and the results of their research discovered this problem.
According to the charity, it costs our country more to ignore the problem of child hunger, than it does to eliminate it.
This problem results in a less competitive workforce and rising healthcare costs. Therefore, the problem touches all of us.
Childhood hunger not only affects a child’s behavior, but his or her academic performance, long-term health, and economic prosperity.
In addition, food insecurity increases the cost of a hungry child’s education and it also can be detrimental to the education of his or her classmates.
Summer is A Crucial Time
Summer is the time when more children are at a higher risk of both obesity and hunger. Of the more than 20 million U.S. children who rely on free, or reduced-price lunch during the school year, only around 3 million receive a free meal in the summer.
Nearly 85% of the kids in the U.S. who may need nutritional assistance do not receive it for a fourth of the year.
Summer means no school breakfast and no school lunch. As a result, more children go without food during the summer.
We Can Win the Battle!
The main reason why is because we have enough food.
Free summer meals funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are available to children at thousands of locations across the country—in some schools, at recreation centers, in churches and other sites.
According to Share Our Strength, many of these programs are school-based, so there is a lot that educators can do to connect hungry children with programs that provide food.
The bad news is that many kids that need these meals are not getting them because there are a shortage of sites and/or adequate means of getting children to existing sites.
In addition, the information about these programs is not well known, so many parents, community leaders, and teachers do not realize that they even exist.
In order to solve this problem, we need established procedures and resources for obtaining information about these programs, as well as a collaborative effort among parents, teachers, and communities.
Solutions Include the Following:
Educators should encourage enrollment in local summer meals programs and ensure that parents know about them—by distributing fact sheets and lists of local site locations.
No Kid Hungry has a best practices website (http://bestpractices.nokidhungry.org) that provides resources and case studies of communities that have created summer meals programs.
Parks and recreation agencies can make up the difference by providing locations for summer meals programs for children in their communities.
The Food Industry Association represents the grocery and food industry. At the public’s urging, the Chairman can and should offer incentives for food service providers, including grocery stores and restaurants, to donate their extra food to the 30 million Americans who are hungry every day. And not let up to 15 billion pounds of food go to waste, winding up in dumpsters.
Food banks and organizations like Feeding America are another solution, but their participation is contingent upon public and corporate donations.
Working together we can break down the barriers to available programs and “bridge the gap” in the war on child hunger. And the good news is------