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September 2012

Back to School = Meals for Hungry Kids

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

I am blessed. I have two children, now grown, and eight young grandchildren who have never known hunger.  Sadly, that is not the case for many American parents, some probably living in your very own town.

According to the Agriculture Department, more than 16 million kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Many times, the only meals they receive are at school or in after school programs.

Head of the Class

We’ve all felt that pang of hunger, the rumbling of our stomachs during a meeting or classroom lecture. And we all know how that feeling makes it that much harder to concentrate on the subject at hand. So, you can imagine how difficult it is for a child to focus on a math equation or learn a new spelling word while trying to ignore the persistent pangs of hunger.

Not surprisingly, research shows that hungry kids do more poorly in school and have lower academic success. Kids need proper nutrition. It’s vital to their growth and development – both physically and mentally.

In 2010, more than 20 million low-income kids received free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program. This important program, funded by the farm bill, helps feed kids during the school week, but what happens during the weekend or summer months?  According to statistics, only 2.3 million of those same children participating in the school lunch program took advantage of the Summer Food Service Program that same year.

This is where organizations like Feeding America come in. Through volunteer efforts, donations and financial contributions, Farm Bureau proudly partners with Feeding America and other hunger organizations to try to reduce childhood hunger. In the past nine years, Farm Bureau families have gathered more than 49 million pounds of food, logged nearly 60,000 volunteer hours and raised more than $1.8 million in donations for Feeding America and other hunger organizations.

Apples Aren’t for Just Teachers

Feeding America serves nearly 14 million children. Through initiatives like the Backpack Program and Kids Café, school kids can have access to food when school is not in session.

The Backpack Program helps kids get nutritious and easy-to-prepare food they need over the course of the weekend. Bags of food assembled by volunteers at local food banks are distributed to nearly 230,000 children at the end of each week throughout the year.  In March 2011, Virginia Farm Bureau members filled more than 1,400 backpacks for children who participated in school lunch programs.

The Kids Cafe program provides free meals and snacks to low-income kids during after-school hours at facilities like Boys and Girls Clubs, churches and public schools. But, in reality, this program provides much more than nutritious snacks; it gives children an opportunity to escape from their daily lives of poverty for awhile and just be kids.

So, as you and your children pick out new backpacks and lunchboxes for this coming school year, remember those kids who have nothing with which to fill a lunch sack. Contact your local Farm Bureau or food bank and see how you can help keep one less child from going to school hungry.