A few years ago, while out on a run with a teacher friend of mine, I learnt a shocking fact about childhood hunger. Till then, a term like ‘childhood hunger’ was in my mind a problem associated with third world countries. Never in my wildest imagination would I have considered it as an issue for USA, a first world country. That morning we were out on a long run on a holiday weekend and Erica, my running buddy who at that time was a kindergarten teacher was talking about how she worried for some of her students when they went home on such long weekends. She worried that while on other weekends it was about two days of food uncertainty, a long weekend would make that into 3 days of not knowing when and if at all they will get food to eat! I did literally stop short on the tracks and my puzzled expression made it clear to her that I lived in a bubble unaware of such problems in our society. She explained that through government funding most of her students ate free breakfast and lunch in school and most days those were the only meals they ate. They came from really poor families and there was no guarantee if their parents would be able to provide dinner for the family every night. She could tell if a child had eaten dinner the night before or not by the way they ate their breakfast in school that morning. Monday mornings were the most painful for her to watch and if it had been a long weekend, you could see the physical signs of hunger on some of those kids. This is unbelievably and sadly still the case in many schools in present day America.
More than 48,500 children in the State of Montana are food insecure, which means they don’t know where their next meal will come from! This statistics from fightingchildhoodhunger.com puts the rate of childhood food insecurity for the state at 22% which is higher than the National average. In the city of Helena, 1 in 5 children struggle with hunger! So it is not a surprise that kids look forward to going back to school with an added eagerness. For them this excitement is not about new backpacks, new clothes, or even brand new supplies. They are looking forward to getting at least two meals a day.
Earlier in August the new administration revealed their “skinny budget”, a rough sketch of their fiscal priorities and objectives which included deep cuts to education and nutrition programs. If put into effect these cuts would mean no more free meals for poor kids in school. A hungry kid does not simply suffer a grumbling stomach or daydream of a hot cheesy slice of pizza during a math class. Kids have a high metabolism and food is vital for their growth. Hunger or malnutrition can cause long lasting physiological damage and hamper their brain development significantly. Low iron content and long term food insecurity can cause irreversible cognitive delays. Hunger in children can manifest itself as agitation or irritability and justifiably so because when blood glucose levels dip, adrenalin, cortisol and other hormones are released causing the irritability. Hunger in school age kids is directly linked to their inability to focus, poor performance, lower grades, missing school and often not being able to move up and repeating grades.
While the impending change in fiscal policies has put a cloud of uncertainty over the future of the school breakfast and lunch programs in many States, the one thing that gives hope and continues to support these children and their fight against weekend hunger is the programs that deliver weekend nutrition/food to kids in school every week to ensure that they are fed even when they are not in school. One such charity, Helena Food Share based in Montana delivers at least 1000 kids packs to elementary schools in Helena every week.
Kid Packs are distributed in partnership with elementary schools in Helena and East Helena and the Head Start program, where staff members at each school ensure packs go home with kids on Friday whom they have identified as being at risk for weekend hunger. Each kid pack provided free of cost to these children costs $3.25 and contains shelf stable milk, juice, low sugar granola bars, dry cereal, oatmeal, easy mac, pop-top meal in a can, fruit cups, peanut butter and kamut. 13 Elementary schools and Head Start are kids pack partners. 1000+ kids receive a kid’s pack each week and that makes the annual program cost more than $100,000.
Besides the Kids Pack, Helena food share provides emergency food to 1500 families in the Helena area. They distribute 6000 pounds of food to local families each day. With an open door pantry, over 8000 needy people are served each year with dignity and respect. It takes a whole community to make their programs possible.
This fall as kids head back to school, HealthProductsForYou.com, an online retailer for healthy living and wellness products has joined the fight against childhood hunger by hosting a Giving Day to benefit Helena Food Share. On Friday, September 8th HPFY will donate 10% of its sale to Helena Food Share in the hopes that more kids will benefit from the kids pack program.
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Gazala lives in New Jersey with her three boys and a loving husband. In her past life she was an Engineer in the field of Electronics and Communications. She took a sabbatical from work for a little over a ...
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