I sat in a meeting today whose sole purpose is to end hunger in our county. We call our selves the “Hunger Alliance” but I prefer to think of us as the Rebel Alliance.
There was a large discussion today–most of our time–over a particular phenomenon that none of us quite understood. It has come up in the past two meetings. Here goes:
- At least 30% of our community has food ‘insecurity’–which means they do not have a steady, stable source of food.
- In the summer, public schools provide free lunches. I believe this is a no-questions-asked free lunch to any child or family who wants it.
- Last year, they even put the lunches on a bus and drove them to the outlying communities.
- No one comes.
One school official said her school was a half-mile from apartments where many students live.
No one comes.
People are hungry. We know they are hungry. The food is right there. No one eats.
What we kept coming back to is the question why? There is all this free food out out there, for the taking. There are two possible avenues for a reason. One, it is a physical problem with logistics. Two, it is a psychological problem involving perception.
Let’s start with the physical possibility. Some suggested it is because the students are left at home, parents go to work, and the children are told to not leave the house. A second physical problem is transportation to the school. a third thing that people suggested was that people didn’t know about it and therefore we need to do a better job of getting the word out. There might be other logistical problems, but these seem like the biggest.
The second option, the psychological one, is more interesting to me because I think it has more traction. There are at least two of these. First, people have a stigma about eating at the school in the summer. During the school year, all children eat, and no one knows if the kid eating the meal is getting free or reduced (which 50% do) or if the parents just prefer to have the hot lunch option for the student. Anyone eating in the summer would automatically be ‘outed’ as receiving free or reduced. Second, its school. People don’t want to go to school during the summer, even for a meal. Even if they were giving away steak dinners, no one would go to school to eat.
I don’t know if we can crack this nut. It is probably beyond our pay grade, if you know what I mean. We are working with volunteer organizations, churches, food-banks, and the public education system. There are multiple layers of bureaucracy to deal with. I suspect we are stuck with the status quo for at least the foreseeable future. This reality breaks my heart. The idea that there are children who are hungry just because the calendar says it is July troubles me.
There is really only one real solution here. That solution is year-round school. It makes the most logical sense to solve the food shortage. I am in favor of year-around school for academic reasons as well, but this is the reason that might eventually get people thinking.
I’d be interested to hear your opinion, so I have turned comments “On” for this particular post.