So the wee ones and I went to the grocery store today. We needed some more fruit and some chicken to make for dinner. We walked in, and we chose what we wanted, bought it, and left. And I almost forgot how lucky we are.
There are so many people who don’t have that luxury, and I’m talking people in my town who attend the wee ones’ school and are in their classes, especially Little Miss’s class. They don’t have a car, so just heading to a grocery store doesn’t happen. They have to walk to a bus stop and bus it. Or they arrange a trip with their neighbors who have cars. Or they have to call a taxi. It isn’t something that they just need to do and then go. On top of that, they don’t have the luxury of just deciding what they want to eat and buying it. They have to watch every penny, and they can’t buy enough food to sufficiently feed their families.
Fortunately, there is some help available, but it isn’t enough to end child hunger. Not yet. These are the students who receive free or reduced breakfast and lunch at our school. For some, that’s the only food they get all day because their parents know they received two solid meals, which is better than younger children or them – and they simply don’t have the food budget to provide three meals a day.
We’re in the midst of summer vacation right now, so that breakfast and lunch isn’t coming anymore. It’s the summer where childhood hunger really ratchets up, but there’s so much we can do about it. Because donations to food pantries tend to decline in the summer – and some pantries actually run out of food – our school collected over 2,000 cans of food during the last two weeks of the school year to bring to the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Each child bringing in four cans of food, something that simple and that small, turned into a huge donation.
The good news is that in my area, food insecurity decreased slightly from 2009 to 2011. It went from 11.1% to 9.1.%. That’s great except that it’s still just about 1 in 10 people around me who may not know where their next meal is coming from. The child food insecurity rate though? 17.5% – almost one in five children. That is an incredibly scary statistic to me.
When you’re hungry, you aren’t focused on school. Even if you want to be, your body won’t let you. And these children have no choice in the matter. They didn’t do anything to cause their hunger, but they live with the effects of it. We know that when children who are food insecure score lower on achievement tests. They’re also more likely to be sick, absent, or tardy. They are often disruptive in class or inattentive. All of that sets them up for a lifetime of obstacles that are more likely to continue a cycle of hunger with the next generation.
Of the 21.3 million children who receive free or reduced price breakfast and lunch during the school year, just 2.3 million receive meals via the Summer Food Service Program for a variety of reasons – a lack of awareness of available programs, no transportation to get there, or simply no programs in their areas. ConAgra’s Hunger Free Summer aims to reverse some of this.
The goal of the Hunger Free Summer program is to reach 25% more children each year over 5 years to help eliminate childhood hunger. Half of the $10 million commitment from ConAgra to Feeding America goes toward the summer programs. They are providing grants of between $20,000 and $50,000 to 29 food banks across the country (including the Northern Illinois Food Bank near me) to help overcome some of the barriers to providing meals to children during the summer.
This is a major issue, and I’m impressed that actor Chris O’Donnell is the spokesperson for ConAgra in supporting this initiative. The good news? You can help, too. Chris O’Donnell created a video to help get the message out and increase awareness. For every view of this video in its entirety, a meal is donated.
You can do that, right? I have the video right here. It’s a minute and thirty seconds long. That’s it. Watch it all the way through to get your meal donated and learn more about the initiative then share with everyone you know. What an impact this simple action could have.
Need help yourself? Start by finding a local food bank and talking to them about what options are available in your area. It’s amazing the wealth of knowledge and resources the food banks can be. They’ve seen it all. They are there to help.
Want to help beyond just watching the video? Visit the Take Action page for Hunger Free Summer and take a look at some of the ways you can make a difference in creating a #HungerFreeSummer.