52% of 4th graders are receiving subsidized meals
When I think about childhood hunger a vivid image comes to mind of my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Doyle, teaching kids how to make simple nutritious snacks – like peanut butter on apples. It was the early 90’s and the country was in the middle of a recession and the first Gulf War. She knew that there were some kids in this working class Connecticut suburb who went to bed with empty bellies – many of them had parents working multiple jobs, struggling to get by and find the time and resources to prepare meals. Like many teachers before and after her – she understood that hungry children struggle to concentrate, learn and thrive. She believed it was unacceptable for any child to be hungry and she made sure that didn’t happen…one kid at a time. Fast forward 20 years – I wonder what she would do today as more families struggle to put food on the table.
Yesterday the New York Times reported a surge in the number of kids receiving free or low cost meals. Nationally an astonishing 52% of 4th graders are receiving subsidized meals. In some King County school districts, more than 70% of kids are eligible for these programs. This is no surprise given the ongoing recession, high rate of unemployment and that nearly 250,000 King County residents are food insecure. While these numbers are alarming, they show that kids are accessing food during the school day. We should also be concerned with hunger when school is out – after-school, on weekends and during the summer.
Like Ms. Doyle, I believe it is simply unacceptable to have children experiencing hunger in our community. As a community we should be outraged that any child is hungry. It doesn’t make moral or financial sense. Federal nutrition programs like the National School Lunch Program and Basic Food Program (SNAP/Food Stamps) are critical tools in the fight against hunger. These programs combined with resources from community food banks, education on cooking low cost meals and opportunities to grow food can help end childhood hunger. As a community we must rally together to protect existing programs, promote access to these programs and find new solutions to address childhood hunger.
1. Advocate for the State Food Assistance Program: Legislators are in Olympia now for a Special Legislative Session to deal with a projected $1.4 billion deficit. Last year, the state legislature reduced funding for State Food Assistance (a program that provides Food Stamps to legal immigrants who are not eligible for the Federal Food Stamp program). A court order is in place prohibiting the benefit reduction, however, pending the outcome of an equal protection and due process lawsuit on behalf of SFA recipients. Gov. Gregoire has again proposed to eliminate the program. Of the 31,100 people who either receive State Food Assistance or benefit indirectly from the program by living in a householdwhere another family member receives it, 12,500 are children. Contact your legislator today and ask them to protect this important program.
5. Donate to an area food bank.