In the third richest state in one of the richest countries in the world (right here in Worcester County, Massachusetts), 1 in 8 kids struggles with hunger. And of the over 82,000 people Worcester County Food Bank Partner Agencies served last year, 1/3 were kids.
Anti-hunger advocates maintain that the problem isn’t lack of food (there’s enough to go around); rather, it’s lack of access that’s the issue. Systemic challenges like poverty contribute to hunger because people can’t afford enough, healthy food. That would be problematic for anyone, but hunger has well-documented long-term impacts on children’s health.
Here are four issues to watch if you’re passionate about ending child hunger. Plus, what you can do about them right now!
1) Breakfast After the Bell. There’s pending legislation here in Massachusetts that would require any school with 60% or more of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals to offer breakfast, after the start of the school day, to all students, free of charge. Breakfast After the Bell – and, in particular, breakfast in the classroom – decreases stigma and improves access to healthy food by making it available to everybody. What you can do: Contact your legislators and tell them you support Breakfast After the Bell (S. 2441 and H. 327).
2) “Lunch shaming.” Depending on a school’s policies, if a child has overdrawn their lunch account, a school can refuse the child hot lunch – even if it’s already on their tray. Cafeteria workers have been instructed to throw away a child’s hot lunch, replacing it with a cold lunch (think: a cheese sandwich), embarrassing kids and perpetuating hunger. Some workers have refused to follow policy, paying off student debts themselves to avoid shaming a child. What you can do: Get to know how schools in your district are supporting students who need assistance to afford school meals. Depending on what you learn, start or support a program aimed at helping students access the meals they need to thrive. (Here’s one local example for inspiration.) Or petition a school or school board to change harmful policies.
3) Summer meals. We know school meals help offset the financial burden on families struggling to provide food for their children. Food insecurity can increase when school’s out for the summer. Since the late 60s, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) has provided food assistance for low-income families in Massachusetts, offering free, nutritious meals to children 18 and under at designated meal sites across the region. Still, only about 15% of those who are eligible to access it do, and some of it may be due to lack of awareness of the program as a resource. What you can do: Spread the word about SFSP on social and in your community. Stay tuned for the list of meal sites open this summer.
4) SNAP. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP – formerly known as Food Stamps – is the first line of defense for people seeking food assistance. And, across Massachusetts, over 43% of SNAP beneficiaries are children. What you can do: Oppose harmful policy proposals such as funding cuts, block grants and funding caps. Contact your U.S. Senators (Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey here in Massachusetts) and tell them to keep SNAP strong! Rally your friends in other states – particularly those whose senators may be less supportive – and encourage them to make similar calls.
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