In our land of plenty, hunger continues to be problem.
One in four Michigan children lives in poverty, and that puts them at risk of not getting enough food.
Nearly half the people Gleaners Community Food Bank helps—at least 40 percent— are children younger than 18. Sadly, that need is far from being filled.
Gleaners actively works to eradicate hunger, targeting a five-county area— Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland and Wayne—in southeast Michigan. It provides 45 million pounds of food each year to Michigan’s hungry via its 600 partner food pantries, schools, soup kitchens, shelters and nonprofits.
“Last year more than 317,000 children in southeast Michigan qualified for free or reduced fee lunches — about 3,000 more than the year before,” says Natalie Fotias, marketing manager for Gleaners. She shares Kids Count in Michigan data, where from 2006 to 2009 the number of students who qualified for reduced-cost school lunches jumped 26 percent, and 45.8 percent of Michigan students qualified.
Each of the five counties Gleaners serves saw double-digit spikes over those three years—Livingston, 55 percent, to more than 5,500 students; Macomb, 59 percent, to more than 54,000; Monroe, 47 percent, to more than 8,800; Oakland, 45 percent, to more than 61,000; and Wayne, a 14 percent rise, to more than 186,000.
In Novi Community Schools, there are approximately 600 students who use the free or reduced lunch program, according to Director Of Nutrition and Food Service JoAnn Clements. That's about 8 percent of the student population.
"Academically there's been so much research done that shows hungry children don't learn," Clements said. "So it's final that kids have good nutrition in order to enhance their learning process. Children who are hungry have a difficult time focusing and they're more tired."
Clements said she has seen the number of students joining the free or reduced lunch program increasing over the years. When she started 14 years ago, just 60 kids used the program.
"The problem is everywhere, not just in communities with lower economic levels, but certainly in ours too," she said.
Novi Schools also recently started offering breakfast for students to purchase before school, which also offers free or reduced prices for students who qualify.
"Some of our kids, as hard as it is to believe, don't have access to food all the time," Clements said. "For the kids who need it the most, we're there for them, and I feel really good that we're going to continue that program."
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Fotias agreed that hunger can cause problems in schools.
"Studies show (hungry students) lag behind their peers and typically aren’t able to make that gap up later in life," she said.
She shares some scary statistics:
"Insufficient nutrition puts children at risk for illness and weakens their immune systems, (making them) 90 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health," according to John T. Cook, Ph.D., associate professor at Pediatrics of Boston and primary author of “Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation” (2009). That includes higher rates of hospitalization, and adding to the hidden costs of hunger.
Hunger can be harmful to a growing mind, too. In “The Effects of Poverty on Children,” by Jeanne Brookes-Gunn and Greg J. Duncan, the authors state “Even short spells of malnutrition can have detrimental, long-term effects on the cognitive development of children during the critical early childhood years.”
The aftershocks of hunger don't simply fade away. It can hurt them later in life, too. A child not getting enough to eat can fall behind in their studies, according to Harry J. Holzer’s “The Economic Costs of Poverty in the U.S.," putting them at a distinct disadvantage from their properly fed peers.
Simply put, a healthy, balanced and nutritionally complete diet does a body, a brain, and the whole society good.
How can you help? Join Patch in our virtual food drive, which runs through Nov. 25. Click here to help! Then share this with your friends and family.
Novi Patch Editor Rebecca Jaskot contributed to this report.