We live in a country that throws away 40% of its food, but for many children growing up in low-income households, school meals are their most nutritious and reliable food source. According to a brief from the Food Research and Action Center, “The many reports from teachers and child care providers about the trepidation students feel about going home at the end of the week to empty cupboards and how ravenous they are on Monday morning … suggest that the official data may well understate the depth of childhood food insecurity.”
Summer is the worst time for kids who don’t get enough to eat at home. With schools closed, USDA-funded summer programs only feed about one in five poor children. Judy Pasternak, writing for AOL News, says, “The children caught in the gap will likely spend the next few months cadging leftovers from neighbors, chowing down on cheap junk, lining up with their families at food banks that are already overmatched, or simply learning to live with a constant headache, growling stomach and chronic fatigue. When school rolls around again in the fall, they will be less healthy and less ready to learn than their peers.”
On July 15th, the House Education and Labor Committee passed the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act. In addition to tasking the Department of Agriculture with the development of strict nutrition standards for food in school vending machines and cafeterias, the bill increases the number of children eligible for free or subsidized meals.
The bill, which allocates $8 billion over 10 years, still has to get through the House and Senate. Until then, all of us who get enough to eat have a golden opportunity to practice responsibility, caring, and citizenship.
What you can do:
Find your local food bank here to learn about volunteer opportunities, donation needs, and how you might organize a food drive or volunteer field trip in your area. It may be too late to organize for this summer, but hunger isn’t just a summer problem. You can organize food drives for winter and spring vacations too.
You might also consider integrating volunteer and donation work into your curriculum or current service learning programs.
For 1st-6th graders: Click here for a craft project in which kids design and hang mobiles that will raise awareness and add some pizzazz to your food drive.
For high school students: Check out this video campaign highlighting the issue of food deserts (the lack of fresh, healthy food in urban neighborhoods). These videos were made by teens in Los Angeles, and they might inspire a similar project for high school kids in your area. (For more info on how these students “greened” their food desert, click here.)
For the super-energetic and motivated: There’s always the school garden project. School gardens can grow edible food, but they can also help kids develop healthier relationships with food and a greater appreciation of their connection to the Earth and its resources. If you don’t know where to start, check out this site from the horticultural experts at Texas A&M and this one from the Chicago Botanic Garden.