Serving the Hungry - Spring 2014 Newsletter

Household Food Insecurity

ChildImagine hearing your small child cry, “I’m hungry, please make me something to eat.”  You go to the refrigerator to heed their request, only to find barren shelves.  The pantry and cupboards too are vacant.   You are forced to whisper softly, “I’m sorry, there is nothing here… maybe tomorrow.”  Or imagine having to make the painful choice between paying for rent and utilities or purchasing food to feed your family.

This gut-wrenching scenario is played out regularly by more than 8.4 million U.S. households each year.  These are families with children, and they represent more than 21% of the entire population of the U.S.  These households are classified as food insecure which means they lack access by all household members at all times to enough food to support an active, healthy life.

Effects of Food Insecurity on Children

Children that come from food insecure families face a number of challenges.  Common consequences include compromised physical health, poor attention in school, developmental delays and heightened family stress.  Infants born to food insecure mothers have higher incidences of cleft palate, spina bifida, compromised immune function and greater susceptibility to infection and chronic diseases. 

Children under the age of 3 who experience very low food security are twice as likely to experience iron deficiency, anemia, and adverse consequences for neurocognitive development as their food secure peers.   As children reach school age, food insecurity can be associated with a reduced quality of life.  While at school the food insecure child may lack the energy to engage in the daily activities of school such as learning or socially interacting with peers.  Children will often express physical symptoms of hunger such as stomachaches or they may exhibit signs of anxiety or behavior problems.   

Unfortunately, as these children age, symptoms (if left untreated) do not improve.  Children who are food insecure often score lower both on intelligence and achievement tests. They are more likely to repeat a grade in school, and as they move into the teenage years these same kids are three times as likely to have been suspended, twice as likely to have seen a psychologist, twice as likely to have trouble getting along with others and four times as likely to have no close friends.

In family situations where food is scarce or unpredictable, all members are affected.  Parents who head these types of households are often more susceptible to bouts with depression, which can have serious implications for the children in the home.  As the parent sinks deeper into depression the children become more likely to suffer from the parent’s unavailability, insensitivity and inconsistency which can explode into acts of neglect or violence. 

The first 3 years of life lay the foundation for healthy brain structure and functioning.  “Therefore, the cumulative effects of poor prenatal care and nutrition, inconsistent sources of food, food of poor nutrient quality and family instability create a perfect storm for compromised neurodevelopmental functioning.“  In order to help families avoid becoming victims caught in the wake of this storm, many feeding programs, both public and private have been created to assist families in need.

Public Programs

There are several public food assistance programs that have been developed by the USDA to provide supplemental nutritious food to improve the health of children.  Programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Programs), WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) exist to help offset food insecurity.  Statistics reveal that approximately half of all American children receive the assistance of food stamps by the time they reach 20 years of age.

Although the publically funded programs exist to be a safety net for those struggling with food insecurity, they cannot possibly meet all the needs of those who require their assistance.  Accessibility is sometimes limited due to eligibility requirements, administrative “red tape”, or lack of funding at the state levels.  To help bridge the gap, privately funded programs are finding increasing demand for their services.

Private Food Assistance Programs

For many families, periodic or regular use of food pantries, emergency kitchens or food from shelters become a lifeline until food security can be attained.  Feeding America is a network made up of 202 food banks throughout the United States.  Organizations, such as Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank, partner with Feeding America to respond to hunger on a local level.  Food Banks distribute food to local charities who then in turn provide this food directly to clients.

Nearly 40% of the families, or 4.4 million people, served by the Feeding America network are households with children under 18 years of age.  These families also typically participate in public food assistance programs to help meet nutritional needs. 

A relatively new program, the BackPack Program, is another method of providing meals for school-aged children.  This emergency sustenance program is also supported by Feeding America.  It was founded in 1995 by a school nurse in Alabama as a response to children’s continuous complaints of stomachaches.  She realized that over the weekends, many of these children did not receive sufficient nutrition and were coming to school hungry on Mondays.  That program, to discretely place a weekend’s worth of kid-sized portions of nutritious meals into back packs, grew to national recognition.  Today, it is supported by 140 food banks which distribute food to more than 3,600 BackPack Programs and serve more than 190,000 children across the U.S.

One of the most positive and unintended consequences of private food assistance programs is the strengthening of civic participation and community cohesion.  Food Banks have the opportunity to work at a local level.  The organizations they support provide food that goes directly to local residents thus creating an “ethos of care” or “civic duty to participate.”   This community building will hopefully remove the stigma associated with food insecurity as residents of common geographic locales find ways to work together to eliminate hunger. 

Both public and private feeding programs are vital and necessary components to solving our nation’s hunger crisis.  Food banks like Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank are in a unique position to be a positive agent of change in their communities and to be leading advocates on the most important nutrition related public health challenge facing the U.S. today.

A Word from the Agency Director

Dear Friends,

We all likely have fond childhood memories that are forever etched in our minds. Maybe it’s your first day of school. Perhaps it’s a favorite classmate with whom you’ve lost contact, or a teacher who increased your desire to learn and taught you the value of education in your life. Now, just imagine for a moment that one of those memories includes an empty stomach and a struggle to get through the day. What makes it worse is the fact that you don’t know if there will be something to eat when you get home.  

Even if this isn’t one of your childhood memories, how do you respond to the call of the most vulnerable in our society, people who can neither defend nor provide for themselves?

I think it is safe to say that we still live in the greatest country in the world; however, it doesn’t diminish the fact that we still have great challenges including childhood hunger. Jeff Bridges, Academy Award winner and one of the most vocal advocates against childhood hunger, said, “If another country was doing this to our children, we’d be at war!” A bold statement, maybe, but does that make it any less true?

Many of us are complacent about hunger and our lack of participation in fighting hunger demonstrates that. In many ways our story is similar to that of Lazarus and the rich man. For the rich man, his sin wasn’t that he was wealthy, but that he walked past this poor, abandoned person and offered no help. Sometimes we simply cannot see the need that is right in front of us, so we don’t do anything.

Throughout our seven-county service area we can identify more than 13,000 children who struggle with accessing sufficient nutrition at some time throughout the year. Even in our most effective programs that include BackPack® and Mobile Pantry programs, summer feeding programs promoted by the Department of Education, as well as the work conducted by our network of 92 member agencies, there is still a meal gap for these children. The reality is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Inside this newsletter issue you will read about the effects hunger has on physical and mental development of children as well as programs offered that can change their lives.

However, I didn’t just write this for your information; I wrote it because we need your help. Below you will learn what you can do to reach out to people in our community and provide them with information on accessing food. There are also ways for you to get involved with other events that include food drives, nutrition assistance programs, and community gardens initiatives for better nutrition. Finally, I recommend that you visit our website to learn more about volunteer opportunities that can help reduce hunger for these children.

You are crucial to helping us end childhood hunger. Please join us in helping make childhood memories that are warm, pleasant, and don’t include an empty stomach.

John C. Etling

Hunger Facts

  1. 1 in 6 people in America face hunger.
  2. Households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate (20.6%) than households without children (12.2%) in 2011.
  3. Food insecurity exists in every county in America. In 2011, 17.9 million households were food insecure.
  4. 50.1 million Americans struggle to put food on the table.
  5. In the US, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.
  6. More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger.
    1. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3.
  7. Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each school day. Less than half of them get breakfast and only 10 percent have access to summer feeding sites.
  8. For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and just 36 summer food programs.
  9. 1 in 7 people are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly half of them are children.
  10. 40 percent of food is thrown out in the US every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans.
  11. These seven states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.7%):
    1. Mississippi (19.2%)
    2. Texas (18.5%)
    3. Arkansas (19.2%)
    4. Alabama (17.4%)
    5. Georgia (17.4%)
    6. Florida (16.2%)
    7. North Carolina (17.1%)

    Source: Feeding America HungerNet 2013

Ten Ways to Help End Hunger

  1. Volunteer at a local food pantry
  2. Volunteer at Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank
  3. Participate in the National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive on Saturday, May 10, 2014, by filling a bag with non-perishable foods and leaving it by your mailbox by 9am
  4. Coordinate a Food & Funds drive in your neighborhood or at your work, school, or church - Donate what you receive to the Foodbank
  5. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen like the one at Bethany House
  6. Engage your elected officials to support Child Nutrition legislation
  7. Empty your pockets each day and save your change for one month - Donate your savings to the Foodbank
  8. Fight hunger in a big way by giving up something small. THCC Foodbank can distribute 4 meals for every $1 received. 1 cup coffee = 10 meals, a fast food lunch = 20 meals, one week of lunches = 100 meals
  9. Find out about the poor and hungry in our communities by reading the 2010 Feeding America Hunger in America Executive Summary
  10. Go to Feeding America's website and find out how you can become more involved in the fight against hunger

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