Joel Berg, the director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, told us recently that approximately fifty million Americans, including more than 16 million children, are currently living in food insecure homes. That means 1 out of 6 families don’t have enough money to afford regular meals. Mariana Chilton, the director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, told Bill on the show this week that hunger is very damaging to children. “Food insecurity affects the cognitive, social and emotional growth of very young children.” A study by Chilton’s group found that children who ate poorly or not enough were more likely to be in fair or poor health, be hospitalized, be at risk for developmental delays and to have iron-deficiency anemia than their food secure peers. So how can we help children in our local communities and across the country to eat well?
1. Help deliver food to children all year round. Share Our Strength’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign works to ensure that every child has access to nutritious food where he or she lives, learns and plays. Because only 1 out of 7 kids who receive free breakfast or lunch in school also receive meals during summer break, Share Our Strength is working with a network of partners to deliver healthy food to these children. Get involved in your own community by entering your zip code in their action center to see a list of organizations, volunteering and advocacy opportunities.
2. Connect with your leaders. Last week’s defeat of the farm bill in the House has left lawmakers unsure about what direction to take in terms of cuts to funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), which was a controversial part of the defeated bill. You can write or call your representatives to share your thoughts about the SNAP program.
3. Pack a backpack with food. Feeding America’s Backpack Program has been providing children with prepared meals and nutritious food to eat on weekends for over 15 years. According to their website, bags of food are distributed to over 230,000 children every year. Use their food bank locator to contact your local food bank and find out about BackPack programs in your community.
4. Volunteer to teach schoolchildren about nutrition. The Edible Schoolyard Project — started 17 years ago by Alice Waters in Berkeley, Calif. — has blossomed into a nationwide network and resource center with edible education programs in schools across the country. Find out if there is a program near you and learn how you can get involved in the edible education movement.
5. Advocate for yourself or others. One of the big challenges with poverty and hunger is that we seldom hear from those of us who are struggling to put food on the table. Amplifying the voices of families who have experienced hunger firsthand is essential to having a fact-based conversation about solutions for ending hunger. Philadelphia’s Witnesses to Hunger program is a great organization that partners researchers and activists with the real experts on hunger and poverty in their community to advocate for change. Share your own firsthand experiences with hunger, food insecurity and poverty, or help others with firsthand experience to share their stories and expertise on the issues.
If you need help, find out whether you qualify for government programs or food pantries. If you’re interested in finding out more about the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, call 1-866-3-Hungry or 1-877-8-Hambre (Spanish) or visit the National Hunger Clearinghouse resource directory. You can also help spread the word about summer food programs by downloading flyers to post in your community.