We all can remember anxiously sitting at our classroom desks, waiting for the clock to tick to 2 or 2:30 marking the end of the school day. Yeah!! It is time to go home or on to sports or other activities.
But what if you went home and there was little or no food to eat? And what if this was the case day after day? What if your family just simply could not afford to get enough food into the house on a routine basis?
Unfortunately, this happens all too often to children living here in the United States. Many are not getting enough food during the day. With the current economic crisis, this problem is getting even worse. As an example, Mary Lou from the Manna Outreach emergency food pantry in Cincinnati, Ohio reports, "in 2008 we gave food to 4,590 families & in 2009 we had 5,662."
Cari Marchese of the People's Pantry in North Andover, Massachusetts points out that need "does not always equate to the actual numbers due to inability some have getting to a food pantry (loss of vehicle, etc.) for assistance." So numbers alone may not tell the extent of this worsening situation.
Many families need help in these tough times and children have the most to lose in their growing years.
The United States can provide much-needed relief by strengthening and
expanding its school lunch program. This would include an after-school meal initiative, as well as allowing more children to participate in the existing free and reduced-price school lunch and breakfast programs.
A legislation (S.990) put forward by Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is a call to "expand access to healthy after school meals for school children in working families."
Another separate bill, the Hunger Free Schools Act by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, addresses expanding coverage of the school lunch program. Senator Brown said at a hearing last year … "This legislation would make it easier for eligible students to enroll in the school lunch program by utilizing current technology and existing data to reduce our reliance on paper applications."
The situation in Brown's own state shows that many kids who qualify for these meals are not getting them. Look at Hamilton County in Southwest Ohio. According to the Children's Hunger Alliance of Ohio, "72.2% of Hamilton County's low-income eligible students participated in the school lunch program, while just 40.8% participated in the school breakfast program. Only 7.1% of eligible students participated in summer meal programs."
Many children need the daily breakfast and lunch programs; and after school, weekend and summer programs should also be made available for them.
What would this accomplish? More children would be healthier and well- nourished, and have the energy to perform better in class. School meals may be the one safety net families need to help them get through harsh economic times.