Do you think a lot about when your next meal will be? Is more of a “What do I have to eat?” question than a “Is there anything to eat?” question? Then count yourself luckier than a lot of children living in our county.
As I’m writing this on the Sunday morning before MLK Day, there are children, and any siblings they have, in our county who are starting to feel the pangs of hunger, and starting to think about how to ration what’s in their kitchen to last them till Tuesday. It’s a skill they’ve gotten too good at: they may not know complicated division problems, but they know exactly how much bread they have left versus how much peanut butter is in the jar and how many people in the house still need to eat. It’s the kind of word problem most of us have never had to have the right answer to.
The number of children we have living in food-insecure homes is too high. Food insecurity is the lack of consistent access to enough food for a healthy, active life. You might have a great meal one day, and nothing for the next three. You might have to scrounge for food six days of the week, and go hungry the seventh. Or in the case of our kids, you might have two meals at school, and then nothing at home on the weekdays and the weekends.
That’s where programs like the Snak Pak program of Jackson County comes in. With their backpacks filled with basic staples that are easy for a child to prepare (nothing microwaveable, nothing that might need a can opener), they send over 175 kids home with the possibility of a full belly for them and their siblings. Working out of Parchment Valley, their very dedicated volunteers spend over a $1,000 week making sure our most food-insecure kids get fed, and without their work, it would be a very long two days till Monday for our most vulnerable children.
At this point, I’m sure some of you are going “Well where are the parents, or grandparents? What about DHHR?” and those are good questions. If children are staying in a home that doesn’t have enough food, how is that not a problem?
Well the problem isn’t always that it’s a not a good home where kids shouldn’t be living. The problem is often that the parents are going hungry too. They just don’t make enough money for seven days of food for a family, or they don’t have reliable transportation to a food pantry or a grocery store. Or they don’t have a working stove or microwave, or even a can opener. And yes, some of them just don’t care if their kids eat, and their indifference hasn’t risen to the level of neglect yet.
But those aren’t questions we can solve quickly, and they certainly aren’t questions that put food in a kid’s stomach. Because at its most basic level, hunger makes it so much harder for a kid to function in society. Imagine if Jackson County didn’t have free lunch for every child, and imagine if you were a kid who came to school not just on no breakfast, but no food for a day, two days, probably longer. Now try and imagine learning science, or trying to read, as your stomach rumbled and your head ached. You couldn’t bring yourself to care about anything the teacher is telling you, because what do you care about grammar when you have to plan where you’re going to get food for you and your siblings next?
That’s the reality a lot of our kids are living with, and that number increases all the time. While the “What’s up with the parents, etc?” questions are ones we need answers to, the most immediate question really is “How do we get food to a kid that needs it so they can grow and learn?”
So the next time Snak Pak is holding a Wendy’s fundraiser (next one is June 11, and thanks to Jason Brown and his crew for allowing our local charities these kinds of opportunities!), take a spin through the drive-thru for your dinner that night, and drop a little extra in their bucket, or leave them a few bags of supplies that are kid-friendly to make, remembering that every $1,000 they make feeds over 175 children every weekend.
Then I’d like you to stop as you’re pulling out your Double Baconator and fries, with a Frosty on the side, and give a little thanks. And not thanks to yourself for being generous; I want you thank everyone in your past who made sure you never knew what hunger was, who always made sure when you were hungry, you could eat.
Give thanks that you can afford, and have access to, beef and potatoes for one meal, and that privilege has enabled you to provide peanut butter and bread for a kid and his family for a weekend. And let’s all pledge to work together to make sure there are no children living without daily bread.