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Monday, April 16, 2012

Hungry Kids

I've written about this topic before (see my Bucks County Taste article from last year by clicking here).  But after seeing the Food Network's special "Hunger Hits Home" the other night, I had to comment again.

First, if you have not seen the show, you should.  Click here to view the program and to see how you can help out. 

Any American going hungry is a travesty, but hungry kids are simply something this country needs to be ashamed of.  There are about 16 million kids in this country who don't know where their next meal will come from.  That's a big number--so big that it's hard to picture how many it really is.  Well, it's about the total population of Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago combined.  16 million kids hungry in the US in 2012?  How can that be?

It's not just a rural or urban problem.  It's not just an unemployed problem or a homeless problem.  It's a problem that runs rampant throughout all our communities.  Meanwhile, kids who do not get the proper nutrition are affected physically, cognitively, behaviorally and emotionally.  The TV program shows many successful school breakfast and lunch programs that create students who can concentrate better during the school day because they had a good meal to start the day.

There are those who think that families like this need to get jobs or stop "playing the system" by living off of food stamps and the like.  Many families who use local food pantries are employed--but simply can't afford all the necessities of life.  And according to the Food Network program, food stamps cover about $1 per person per meal per day.  So a family of four "living" off of food stamps gets about $4 per meal.  Some meal, huh?

Fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce for many hungry families, especially in urban areas.  So they spend what little they have on food that is cheap and accessible: items often with little or no nutritional value.  Just the cheapest way to fill bellies.  Ramen noodles are a constant theme of the families profiled in "Hunger Hits Home".  Families literally eat them every day--sometimes for more than one meal. 

Luckily, there are those who are trying to help.  The program profiles a CSA that brings fresh produce to those who can't get it and sells it to them cheap--allowing parents to provide much-needed nutrition to their kids.  Food pantries all over the country are there to help families keep food on their shelves.  (The Texas food pantry featured in the program is especially inspiring.)  Even big corporations are helping by donating food to pantries.  Some give money when you buy certain products.  (Some of the commercials run during the show promoted these kinds of programs.  Unfortunately, many of the food you have to buy to have the donation given are processed junk.)

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) hit the nail on the head when he said in the program that hunger in the US is not an economic problem.  It is a political problem.  We have billions going toward wars and political campaigns.  A fraction of that money could literally solve the problem. 

What can we do?  Donate to food pantries, school meal programs (which are doing amazing work in many states) and other organizations fighting hunger in the US.  Be aware of the problem--learn more about it by going to sites such as Share Our Strength, Feeding America, Pennsylvania Association of Regional Food Banks and the sites of your local food pantry.  And let your Congressmen know that you want more funding for the valuable government programs that help to take away the fear that so many kids have--that they will go to bed hungry. 

This problem has to be solved.  And it can be if we all work together to make it happen.

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