By Tamara Sandberg
As a parent of teenagers, I’ve learned that when my kids hear me saying a slang phrase it undoubtedly means they will never repeat that phrase again. “Hanger” is one example—you know, that feeling of anger you get when you’re hungry?
But I hope the phrase goes away for other reasons, too. It isn’t a joke that children at risk of hunger suffer real consequences. They are more likely to experience hospitalization, anemia, and overall poor health. Children struggling with hunger in kindergarten had lower test scores in reading and math by third grade; adolescents who have experienced childhood hunger have a greater likelihood for mood, anxiety, and behavior disorders as well as increased likelihood of substance abuse in adolescence (RTI International: Hunger and Food Insecurity in America).
An astounding 1 in 5 children in Kentucky (20 percent) are considered food insecure, which means they live in households that lack consistent access to enough healthy food for an active lifestyle. Eighteen Kentucky counties are in the top 10 percent of U.S. counties with the highest rates of child food security, and all of them are rural counties (Feeding America: Map the Meal Gap).
Increasing the participation rates of children in all food assistance programs for which they are eligible is crucial for ending childhood hunger. For example, the federal Summer Food Service Program ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session.
According to FRAC’s Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation report, only 1 in 12 children in Kentucky who needed summer meals received them in 2016. While significant improvement has been made in recent years, Kentucky ranks 47th lowest among states on this indicator.
One of the reasons Kentucky kids are missing out on summer meals has to do with program requirement that children travel to a central location and eat their meals together at the site. Unfortunately, this one-size-fits-all model is not effective in many Kentucky communities. It can be difficult for children in rural areas to find transportation to summer meals sites when school buses aren’t operating and parents aren’t able to transport children to meal sites during work hours. Often kids in rural communities live miles away from the closest available site. Even those children who live relatively close to a site in a rural area might not have access to a safe route to walk to the site.
We believe the solution is to allow for the delivery of summer meals direct to the children in need. The US Department of Agriculture should allow summer meal providers to deliver food to children in rural and hard-to-reach communities.
In 2015 U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the bipartisan Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act that would have allowed for summer meal delivery. Unfortunately the bill was not enacted.
Take action against childhood hunger today by contacting Senator McConnell, thanking him for sponsoring the Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act in 2015, and asking him to introduce the legislation again in 2018.
Child hunger in Kentucky is a serious problem, but we believe it is a problem with a solution. Help us ensure that no child goes hungry in Kentucky.
Tamara Sandberg is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks.