Local programs available to help prevent child hunger
By Vikki Hartt, junior, communication arts major
Hunger affects people of all different shapes and sizes, genders and races, creeds and religions. But, the effects of hunger are often most easily seen in children.
According to the USDA, more than 16 million children in the United States lived in food insecure households in just 2010. Consequently, the major and most crucial time of growth in humans is in the first eight years of a child’s life, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
This major growth and development phase is directly correlated to the nutrition a child receives, and if a child does not receive that proper nutrition, various problems can occur.
Many local communities provide outlets for children and families that can’t afford proper nutrition on their own including soup kitchens and reduced-cost lunches at schools.
Soup kitchens support families
In Northeastern Pennsylvania, there are more than 20 soup kitchens, where everyone who visits is served, no questions asked. St. Francis of Assisi Kitchen, located on Penn Avenue in Scranton, is one of the many soup kitchens that provide individuals and families with hot, nutritious meals daily.
A volunteer coordinator at the soup kitchen, Seth Einterz, explained that although he sees the kitchen as a welcoming environment, there are usually more than 100 people packed into the kitchen, which he said he believes is not ideal for families, let alone children.
Einterz said, “There’s always one or two children, but rarely more than five. The number increases a little on weekends and holidays. But even then, we rarely see more than 10 children.”
Michael Yager is one of the many daily customers of St. Francis Soup Kitchen. Yager is a divorced father of three who relies on the generosity of the soup kitchen. He has been unemployed and on disability since 2010.
Yager said he sees about 100-200 adults per meal at the Kitchen, but rarely children. His son and a few other children are the only other younger regular visitors to the soup kitchen. He agreed with Einterz, saying that while he does enjoy the environment and food offered at the soup kitchen, it is not the most inviting atmosphere for children or teens.
Yager also has two daughters who do not like to go to the soup kitchen. “They feel uncomfortable because all eyes are on them,” he said.
But, he does bring his 15-year-old son to the kitchen most weekends. “He loves the food. Sometimes he’ll even go up for seconds,” Yager chuckled.
Yager said he often sees more children coming to the kitchen on the weekends and in the summer months because they don’t have school, where many are guaranteed a meal, sometimes two, each day.
School lunch programs provide meals for children
A guaranteed lunch and sometimes breakfast is becoming increasingly important to families that can’t afford proper nutrition for their children.
According to The Times -Tribune, more and more children are relying on reduced–cost lunches at school. In the last decade, the subsidized lunch program has increased by 56 percent in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne, and Wyoming counties.
Dunmore Elementary Center is one of the many schools that offer free or reduced lunches. The Dunmore Elementary Center counselor, Amy Ferguson, M.S. said that providing children food at school takes the daily stress off the parents and children because they know they are guaranteed a free lunch.
“The free lunch program is fantastic because it at least allows these kids to eat,” she said.
Ferguson also said some children are told by their parents to not tell anyone in school that they are hungry or not taken care of at home because the kids are scared their parents will be taken away from them.
Ferguson confirmed with first-hand experience what various studies on effects of child hunger have already shown: Children that suffer from malnutrition are often sleepy, find it hard to concentrate and stay on task, have behavioral problems, and have significantly lower test scores.
As food prices rise, parents struggle to keep children in our area fed.For those can’t afford food, help is available. Einterz is optimistic. “I have faith that the local community will continue to provide for the most vulnerable among us,” he said.
Photo Credit: Elysabeth Brown