I have never been hungry a day in my life. Never really, deeply, truly HUNGRY. Never hungry for hours on end or days on end. My family has never suffered food insecurity–a term I had never heard of until a few years ago.
Food insecurity refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it. A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. Some families’ food insecurity may be steady and consistent; other families may experience varying levels of food insecurity across the year, especially at the end of each month.
I have, however, been quite aware that some students in my classes have been hungry–especially boys in middle school. I can only imagine how hungry they may have been, or how long the hunger at that time–or at another particular time–may have lasted. Or how many times a month they and their brothers/sisters and other family members may have suffered from hunger. Because it is suffering. Such hunger is unimaginable to the rest of us.
And, I am not even talking about food choice(s) and the kinds of foods that are needed for good and proper nutrition.
This past Monday, I participated on a panel during the Food Bank of Delaware’s Ending Hunger Conference. Other panelists included a representative from FRAC (Food Resource Action Council), a representative from the Nemours Foundation, a spokesperson from the Delaware Department of Instruction, and the head of Student Nutrition from Colonial School District. I was asked to speak about how hunger plays out in the classroom, at our schools, and what has been and can be done to help alleviate our children’s hunger.
The event was very well attended and was considered a big success by the organizers. It was a very worthwhile cause.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was started in recognition of the levels and extent of hunger, as well as the nutritional needs of American children. Identification of children eligible for free or reduced price lunch (FRPL) is the manner in which childhood poverty figures are calculated and tracked. FRPL figures are used to designate schools with high, medium, or low student poverty levels–to identify the haves and the have-nots.
Free lunch is provided for children from families whose income is 130% or less of federal poverty levels, which are established once each year. For example, as of April 2012, the federal poverty level for a single parent and child was $15,130; for a family of four, it was $23,050. So, 130% of each of those family income maximums is $19,669 and $29, 965, respectively. Reduce priced lunch income maximums are 185% of the same base income levels. With an income of $27,991 for an adult and one child, school lunch each day would cost my child no more than $.40.
[There are probably people out there who say that the federal school lunch program is yet another one of those unnecessary intrusions of the federal government into our daily lives. Another one of those objectionable government support systems and so-called safety nets that actually do more harm than good to American society. One more of those entitlement programs of which the poor are so enamored. I can guarantee that people who see the world that way have not themselves ever been hungry. Nor do they have much imagination or empathy.]
Support for school lunch has been extended to include free or reduced price breakfast eligibility, after school snacks, summer feeding programs, and provisions for children in daycare programs. Some schools and local food banks are also coming up with ways to provide evening meals and weekend meals for children by providing backpacks filled with non-perishable, nutritious food and drink.
Many have long known that the lunch in the school cafeteria or at the daycare facility may have been the only real meal of the day for kids of all ages. Now we offer breakfast to all who need it. However, some children may actually skip the free or reduced price breakfast because of the stigma they feel may be attached to heading for the cafeteria when other, more affluent students head for homeroom.
More about all this later. I have the following quote, from one of my local heroes, on a plaque on my desk in Dover. Patricia is the head of the Food Bank of Delaware organization.
“It isn’t enough to talk about a hunger-free world, one must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to merely believe in it, one must do whatever is possible to achieve it.” ~Patricia D. Beebe