It’s something about the twinkle in their smiles. The way they can make a long, monotonous day into one of the best of your life with a simple stick figure drawing of the family that they enthusiastically request that you hang with all the others on the refrigerator. Children. They restore the gray areas of our once colorful imaginations and give us a reason to want to be the best versions of ourselves. But, what happens when children dream in black and white? What happens when the best they have to give is being a consistent classroom attendant but not an active participant? What does it mean when the last bell of the day rings and a child goes home unsure whether there will be enough dinner to go around for the entire family?
In America, over 13 million children are lacking one of the basic necessities of life – food. They walk along our sidewalks. They swing on our playgrounds. They sit in our classrooms. They play with other children we know and love in our communities. Some may have even sat at our tables. In the most industrialized country in the world, one in five children are unable to access nutritious food on a regular basis. While federal food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have attempted to close the gap, there remains an ongoing need for food assistance in this country. Poverty plays a significant role in food insecurity and continues to perpetuate a cycle of inadequate access to food and other resources. I encourage you to read this article about the way the U.S. Census Bureau measures the poverty rate and this one about the reasons it hasn’t really changed.
We know that in order to strengthen bodies and develop our minds, we need nutrients, particularly in the early stages of life. I don’t think I need to present any scientific or psychological findings to convey the fact that when you’re hungry, you’re not focused or productive and in many ways you’re disengaged. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been “hangry!” This is reality for millions of children who without food assistance programs and other community initiatives to combat hunger, they would not be able to sustain much less excel in their learning. I wonder how many times a child has been labeled a “problem” at school for performance or behavioral issues, when the root of the problem was a growling tummy. Things that make you go hmm…
Fortunately, there are organizations that have made it their business to address childhood hunger. You may be familiar with several national organizations and initiatives, including Feeding America, No Kid Hungry, and Childhood Hunger Ends Here. Often times in your community, there are opportunities to get involved and support local efforts. My chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Lambda Kappa Omega, is one of many service organizations in the D.C. Metro area that partners with local agencies, food banks, and pantries to increase access to nutritious food. I have personally had the privilege of donating my time and money to assemble after school snack packs for elementary school children. These snack packs become critical when a child might not receive another complete meal until breakfast the next morning at school.
We’re all here to help shape the future of the children who will become the next leaders in technology, education, business, medicine, music, sports, arts, politics, and beyond. After all, we’ve only come this far because others have assumed responsibility for our growth and success. So, on this National Childhood Hunger Day, I encourage you to share your heart, lend a hand, and take a stand by donating food, money, or time to initiatives in your community that ensure our children grow up with full plates that will help feed their imaginations and empower them to be extraordinary.