Ask any teacher in almost any school if children are coming to school hungry. It’s almost always a yes.
Then they can go on to tell you lots of stories about the kids and conversations they have with them. Many times it leads to some deep-felt emotion that bubbles up in the teacher, and then they have to stop talking. Some have started some very impressive outreach efforts and have reached out to find support from a church or friends who want to make a difference. I always find what they are doing to be very inspirational. I along with many of you have worked face to face with struggling people, and even when my spirit is occasionally challenged with questions about that adult, when a child is in tow, the questions are melted away and all that remains is that child and their face. Teachers see the face of child hunger 5 days week.
Yes, free and reduced breakfasts and lunches help, but the gap the families are facing are wider than what these important programs can cover.
Data from Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap report indicates that the average person struggling with food insecurity has a gap of about 7 pounds of food per person per week even after the free and reduced schools are taken into account. This means a family of 4 needs an additional 28 pounds of food per week. To try to cover that gap, the family will need to navigate through several food pantries open different days and times to try and find the resources. That is the current system.
It needs to change.
Teachers, Principals and Superintendents also have some challenges getting parental involvement in school organized meetings with staff and other parents. If you grew up and didn’t do well in school, you may have several vivid memories from your childhood that school was a place to be avoided and communication was always negative. Maybe your parents had the same experience and opinion. When you are notified by the school that they would like to meet with you, it might be natural to assume the worst and want to avoid what you consider to be a probable confrontation – so you don’t go. The last thing you need to add to your seemingly endless struggles is to hear that your child is not doing well. Visions of your past experience are now showing up in your child.
Our organization is in the process of establishing food distributions to families with kids at the school after hours. This can be accomplished through community partnerships of area churches, businesses school staff members, and Second Harvest. This team approach doesn’t place a heavy burden for finances or volunteers on any single team member. This looks much more like an adoption of the school, and filling a role with several others to positively impact families with children in that school. This year-round, once or twice a month food distribution will bring families to school for a positive interaction, sharing information and enough resources that will probably meet the family’s needs for at least 2 weeks – and maybe longer. The positive school engagement will begin to build dialogue between parents and staff that leads to encouragement for the child and better performance, partially because the child’s family isn’t hungry.
We have success stories already up and operating. We need churches and businesses/organizations to be open to a conversation on how they may find a way to participate, not carry the burden by themselves. The idea of seeing an entire school with no hungry children is not beyond our reach. It is much more dependent on your will to make it reality.
Do you want to see all children free from hunger? Let us know if we can talk with you. We need to do this.
Email our Child Hunger Coordinator, Sarah Ponto Rivera at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Tim Kean