It’s Friday Afternoon. Know Where Your Kids Are?

 I originally put this post up last February.  As we near the end of the school year, it’s important to consider just how important school lunch is to the nutritional needs of some kids.  And what is going to happen in a few weeks when summer vacation begins.

 

By Ed Nicholson                                                                           photo by eyeliam–Creative Commons

A colleague of mine came into the office last year with a compelling story.  Her eight year-old grandson frequently spent time with her on weekends. Often he was accompanied by a good friend: a normal looking kid; clean, well-dressed, well-mannered.. The friend had a voracious appetite, eating just about everything in his path.  When my colleague made a lighthearted comment about how much he could pack away, he said, “We don’t eat much at my house on the weekend.”   Turns out, life was pretty tough for this kid.  His single dad was making some choices that didn’t exactly put nutrition at the top of the priority list for his family.

Unfortunately, this kind of story is way too common in our land of plenty.

It’s Friday afternoon here in the Ozarks.  Along about the time this posts, school kids around the country will be eating lunch.  For some of them, it will be the last good meal they’ll have until Monday.  If  I’m reading the charts correctly, over 15 million kids participate in the free school lunch program.  For a lot of these kids, the school lunch program is their lifeline; there just aren’t three squares on the weekends and holidays. 

We know there are lots of stories about these kids out there.  If  you have one  and would like to tell it here, leave us a comment, and we’ll get with you.  You can guest post, or just let us tell it.

Meanwhile, there are lots of ways you can help.  Go to the Share Our Strength or Feeding America web sites.  Or go visit your local food bank. 

No kid should dread the weekend.

The Face of Hunger

It’s Friday, when we devote this space to reminding all that the weekends can be tough for the millions of kids around the country who depend on school lunch programs for their nutrition.
Today’s guest post comes from Detroit.  Kristie Sawickis publishes the blog,This Side of Eternity, and also helps in distributing food to children to take home to their families for the weekends.

 

 

I live in a poverty stricken neighborhood in the Metro Detroit area.
And I’ve come to the realization that the ones affected the most by the
continued plague of poverty are the children.

I know that everyone is concerned over the economy, but lets face it, most of us
have never had to send our kids to bed hungry. We have never had to
tell our kids there is no dinner tonight. And we have never had to
send our kids to school hungry, knowing that the relief would come when
they could walk through the lunch line and receive their free lunch.

I am thankful for programs like the free and reduced lunch program.

But the truth is that it just is not enough.  What about the summer, or vacations when school is out?

Whose responsibility is it that these children not go through their entire
childhood with the constant pangs of hunger reminding them that they
have been overlooked by a nation that is full of wealth? Even in these
tough economic times there is still more than enough to go around.

I began doing a food distribution at the elementary school in my
neighborhood, where over 75% of the kids qualify for free lunch. That’s
a lot of kids who rely on the free lunches they get each day when they
come to school. Basically what I do is drive down to the food bank and
pick up 70-100 bags of groceries and then take them to the school and
pass them out on Friday after school. Each bag contains enough food for
one child to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday of the weekend.

When I first began the program I really didn’t fully understand the need.
But week after week I hear of more stories that break my heart.

Like the week we had the opportunity to pass out backpacks full of school
supplies and snack foods. Two little girls came and said they didn’t
want the backpacks full of stuff–they only wanted the grocery bags with
food in them. These girls valued the food they were getting each week
more than the snacks and supplies that were in the backpacks.

Just last week a teacher told me that one of her students was sharing with
her that there wasn’t any food at home and how excited she was that
Friday was coming when she would be able to get her food bag and have
food again.

These are only two examples among dozens.   The situation seems overwhelming.  And it is….. for one person.

But if we could all open our hearts to these children, we could really change the face of hunger.

So, I challenge you. When you are sitting down for dinner tonight, think of
the kids that will spend their evening trying to forget the nagging
reminder that there won’t be any more food to eat for three full days. 

You can really make a difference. There are so many ways to
help. I asked the question earlier, whose responsibility is it that
these children be given something so basic as food? And I would say it
is my responsibility. It is your responsibility. It is all of our
responsibility.

There is so much that you can do to help a child not live in a world completely dictated by hunger.

If you have a story about childhood hunger you’d like to share, comment here.

 

photo by Joe Schlabotnik–Creative Commons

Spring BREAK from Hunger

We’ve been devoting this space on Fridays to reminding people there are many children, dependent on school lunch programs, who are eating their last good meal for the next 72 hours or so. Today’s guest post, by Sarah Owen, raises further concerns about these children.

 

 

I live in paradise—or so the Chamber of Commerce tells me. 

Southwest Florida offers a tropical paradise filled with islands, palm trees, sandy beaches and balmy weather…the perfect location for a spring break and escape from reality.   Thousands of visitors flock here every spring to take a time out  from their everyday lives.

But some of our most vulnerable residents won’t be escaping from their reality of hunger over the spring vacation.  Tens of thousands of school aged children in Southwest Florida receive their only meals through the School District’s free and reduced lunch program.  But if school is out over Spring Break—Where will they eat?  Some of them will be forced to dumpster dive in local parking lots while others simply go without.

The hunger agency I work with is assisting one school over the break, supplying emergency food supplies to the families whose children normally receive our weekly Emergency Food Backpacks.  Today, hundreds of families will gather at the school to receive the much needed food to get them through the week.  But I am haunted by all the families at the other 99 schools in my community who will not receive any assistance.  After lunch this afternoon there will not be another meal available at the school for 11 days!

So as the masses of families descend on our Paradise longing for a break….masses of school children will be crying for a reprieve  from the hunger they live with everyday!   

No matter where you are this spring season, reach out to feed a child in need—they really need a BREAK!

Sarah Owen is the CEO of Community Cooperative Ministries, Inc in Fort Myers Florida.  She is a passionate hungerfighter who is dedicated to getting food into the hands of hungry children.

If you would like to use this space to discuss childhood hunger in your community, drop us a note in the comments.

Photo by nyki_m Creative Commons

The Backpack Program: Food for Children in our Community who Need it Most

It’s Friday, when we devote this space to reminding people of the fact that many kids who depend on school lunch programs are at risk of hunger over the weekend.     Sue Brockway, Tyson Community Relations, has long worked closely with River Bend Food Bank in Moline, Illinois.  She submits this entry today on the food bank’s backpack program.

Research has shown that children who do not receive adequate nourishment during their developmental years experience impaired mental and physical development.  The sad reality is that there are many children who rely on resources such as free and reduced priced meals for their primary source of food and nutrition during the school year.  But what about weekends when these programs are not available to these at-risk children? In 2007 River Bend Foodbank piloted the Backpack Program to help stop the debilitating effects of childhood hunger and meet the needs of children over the weekend when there may be little or in some cases, no food to eat. 
Today the Backpack Program at River Bend Foodbank has grown to provide more than 800 children with nourishing food to take home for the weekend.  Foodpacks are discreetly distributed to the children on the last day before the weekend or holiday vacation throughout the school year. The food is nutritious, child friendly and easily consumed.
This program is so effective because of our partnership with 14 schools in the Quad Cities (Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois). School staff identifies the students who are most in need and distribute the food each week.  Each year we ask the teachers of the children who receive the food to complete a survey to help us determine how well the program is working. 
Here is a sampling of the comments on the surveys:

  • One little boy told me very week that there was not food in the house. Since the Backpack Program, he has stopped saying that.
  • I have a little boy in my class who would always say, ‘Is it Friday yet? Do I get to take home my food?
  • The kids eat a lot of junk. This gives them something better to eat.
  • One of my students said he wished he could get the backpack food every day.
  • When Sarah got her food she told me: ‘I’m going to my aunt’s this weekend and I’m going to take my food with me!

River Bend Foodbank is an accredited member of Feeding America.  The Foodbank distributes nearly 5 million pounds of food to 22 counties on an annual basis.

By the way, if you know Sue Brockway, send her a note of congratulations. She’s the most tireless and selfless hunger fighter we have at Tyson Foods.  We’re all danged proud of her!

 

Childhood Hunger–Another Story from the Front

 It’s Friday, the time we devote to reminding you of childhood hunger, and the many children who depend on weekday free lunches for their nourishment.  Daniel Buckley from Feeding America member the Food Bank for New York City, sent this account of the great work their food bank is doing in addressing the challenges faced by kids who might otherwise go hungry on the weekends.

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In 2007, the Food Bank For New York City took Feeding America’s model BackPack Program and made one simple but very significant modification. They took the national program – which provides children with bags of healthy food to take home – and merged it with the concept of a choice-style food pantry, calling it the Open Market BackPack Program.

Children accessing the Food Bank’s programs are able to fill their bags themselves, picking items from a selection of fresh produce and nutritious food. This activity helps children understand what goes into a healthy meal, while nurturing feelings of competency and self-sufficiency. Here is just one touching story of a child on whom this program made a great impression.

Told by a staff member of a domestic violence shelter that is a member of the Food Bank For New York City’s food assistance program network.

"John was a domestic violence shelter guest.  John, along with his mother and younger brother, were victims of mental, emotional and physical abuse. Fortunately, they found the courage to leave and come here.

"Before they came here, John had to leave his school and his mother had to leave her job because of the abuse, and money was scarce. John’s mother has had a real hard time trying to make her money stretch so that the kids can have enough to eat. She’s told me that our Open Market BackPack Program has been a real lifesaver for her children — it feels so great that our services can make such a difference. Being able to shop for themselves makes the kids feel responsible. John’s a real sweet kid. It’s obvious he feels that he’s helping his family and feels real good about it.

"John’s mother said that he never wants to miss an opportunity to participate in the program. She always makes a point to show how thankful and appreciative she is by returning the tote bags neatly folded so they can be used again."

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Be sure to check out the brand new Food Bank for New York City Blog.  As you’ve just seen, they have some compelling stories to tell.

120 Feeding America food banks have backpack programs to help kids like John.  You can help by donating food, funds or time to your local food bank.