Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Children Going to School Hungry

Everywhere we turn in September there are reminders that school is back in session. School buses shuttle children, back to school night postings are in the local paper and on billboards in front of schools and the neighborhood playgrounds are quieter. September also sparks media focus on school topics. There have been numerous articles on how the struggling economy has curtailed back to school spending and has caused many school systems to lay off teachers and scale back programming. Within the new economic struggles that our nation is facing there is one important issue that needs to be underscored and it trumps the lack of back to school spending, program cuts and even teacher lay offs, it is the growing number of children who are going to school hungry. Here is an example: One may think of Maine as a state with picturesque waterfront vacation cabins, and traditional cedarshake and shuttered houses in quaint fishing villages... Yet there is another snapshot of Maine, as reported by Bill Shore in the Kennebek Journal, that is not so pretty. “One in five Maine children lives in households facing hunger. Only 44 percent of children in Maine receive the free school breakfast for which they are eligible, and only 15.5 percent get summer meals when schools are closed. Between 2000 and 2005, Maine had the highest percentage growth rate of hungry people in the United States. More than one in eight Mainers uses food stamps”(2009).

As I conducted research for this article I realized that the scenario of children being hungry is a common one today in the US. It also became evident that hunger crosses ethnic, gender and geographic lines. Amanda Greene, in the Star News reveals that there are a startling 24.1 percent of children under five in North Carolina who are not receiving the proper nutrition. This article also contains an interactive map of the US showing state by state "food insecurity" statistics for children under five. The findings are alarming! The Share Our Strength: No Kid Hungry organization is attempting to combat childhood hunger, they explain three ways that a community can help combat hunger in children. Teachers and schools are an obvious touchstone for both awareness and providing services. Teachers and schools can play a significant role by 1)increasing access to programs, 2)strengthening community ties and resources for these children, and 3)improving families knowledge about the availability of food programs and offering nutrition education. This organization also points out that "The reality is that more than 12.4 million children in America—that’s one in six—are at risk of hunger. And it’s likely that these children will endure lifelong consequences as a result of having limited access to nutritious foods." As individuals we should look to help our local food banks by donating funds or food and volunteering where we can. A hungry child cannot concentrate- schools should concentrate their efforts on eradicating this problem! Let's all do what we can.