“Tag!” From nowhere, a little pair of hands shoved me towards the playground.
Lunch had just ended and it was recess for this New Orleans kindergarten class.
They’re told to walk but that doesn’t stop the energetic five-year-olds from racing toward the monkey bars and swing set.
When I agreed to help for a day in my friend’s classroom I wasn’t sure what to expect. Soon I discovered that I arrived earlier that morning completely unprepared for the exciting and tiring day ahead. The kids ran circles around me and after only half a day, I was the one who needed a nap time. They never seemed to run out of energy!
My new friend taunted me from behind the slide with an impish smile. As I raced (no half-jogs here; she was fast!) to tag her back.
Reflecting on that day, it is hard for me to believe that at least 5 of those 25 playful kids did not know where their next meal would come from.
Would you recognize a hungry child if you saw one? I couldn’t.
The Problem: Child Hunger
Child hunger in America is more widespread than many realize. 16.2 million American children–about 20% of kids in the U.S.–are food insecure. For many of them, the meals they receive at school on weekdays are the only meals they can count on. Here are the causes and effects of child hunger as they appear on the What Will You Bring to the Table? website.
- Only 1 in 7 kids who eat a free or reduced-price school lunch during the school year also participate in summer meal programs.
- Every day, 20 million children get free or reduced-price lunch at school to keep them from being hungry. But 10 million of them do not get breakfast in the same way, and may come to school hungry.
- Rates of food insecurity are substantially higher than the national average among households with incomes near or below the Federal poverty line–15.7 million children in America (2010) live in poverty.
- The unemployment rate is over 9% which makes it extremely difficult for America’s families to keep their children fed.
- 76.5 percent of food-insecure households did not use a food pantry at all during 2010; 27% said there wasn’t a pantry in their community and 15% said they didn’t know whether one was available.
- Undernourished children 0-3 years of age cannot learn as much, as fast or as well.
- Children who face hunger are more susceptible to obesity and its harmful health consequences as children and as adults.
- Lack of enough nutritious food impairs a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school.
- Teens who regularly do not get enough to eat are more likely to be suspended from school and have difficulty getting along with other kids.
(Source: whatwillyoubringtothetable.org, USDA, No Kid Hungry, Feeding America, and Why Hunger)
“People may not realize how prevalent child hunger is in the United States. It could affect your neighbor or your child’s classmate and that’s unacceptable. No child should ever have to worry about having enough to eat,” said Kori Reed, vice president of Foundation and Cause at ConAgra Foods, a partner of What Will You Bring to the Table?
The What Will You Bring to the Table? Campaign
Luckily, organizations like generationOn are doing what they can to help end child hunger. GenerationOn aims to engage, inspire and equip children to make a positive impact on their community (and themselves) through service. This awesome organization got my attention while I was writing Creating Socially Responsible Citizens: In the Classroom for their wonderful service learning resources.
The What Will You Bring to the Table? campaign was launched by generationOn along with its partners to help end child hunger. The campaign encourages children and teens to lead creative projects such as planting a community garden, organizing a food drive and fundraising to support the local food bank to help raise one million meals for hungry children in the United States. Kids are also encouraged to build and decorate picnic tables to spread the message. In doing so, kids will also be taking a stand against child hunger.
“By focusing on child hunger and food insecurity, we are asking young people–some of whom are themselves in a food insecure environment–to take a stand and say, ‘Childhood hunger is not okay!’” says Concetta Bencivenga, executive director of generationOn. “[We ask them] to join with sponsors and other caring adults to make their mark and make a difference in their communities.”
What You Can Do
GenerationOn has made it incredibly easy to get involved. At whatwillyoubringtothetable.org there are resources for children, teens, parents, teachers, clubs and anyone who wants to start a project for this cause. Here’s what you should do to help stop child hunger.
1. Click. Go to whatwillyoubringtothetable.org
2. Study up. Learn the facts about child hunger in America and in your own state (it might shock you). Download the fact sheets, learn where your nearest food bank is and read about what child hunger looks like.
3. Organize. Plan an event that raises meals, money or awareness for child hunger and get your friends involved. Explore the resources tab on the website for project ideas, fact sheets, lesson plans and more.
4. Act! Visit the website to see a gallery of other kids in action.
5. Report back. Log your results and help the What Will You Bring to the Table? campaign reach their goal of one million meals for kids in need before the April 30 deadline.
One million meals may feel like a drop in the bucket in the scheme of eradicating food insecurity for 16.2 million kids (and 49 million individuals) across the United States. But as children and teens get involved with the What Will You Bring to the Table? campaign, they will learn that by banding together, they can make a world of difference in the lives of their community members, neighbors, and classmates. They learn that every bit counts and that kids can make a difference.
“As adults, we understand that hunger is a complex issue,” says Bencivenga. “Having said that, generationOn believes that young people of all ages have the power and the ingenuity to make a difference amidst a complicated landscape.”