Back to school adds up to hunger for some kids

Back to school adds up to hunger for some kids

October 3, 2022 in Get Involved Harvest Time Newsletter

This school year, a great benefit available to all students for the past two years isn’t there – free breakfast and lunch.

As COVID-19 relief measures end, including school meals, and food prices increase, more families struggle to feed their children. And, students feel the effects of this change, “I feel angry because when I’m hungry my stomach feels like a million cramps in one spot,” a 5th grader named Kaylee shared.

Some families will still qualify for free school meals if they meet income requirements. Unfortunately, there are far too many families making too much money to qualify for school-provided meals but not quite enough to provide a nutritious lunch for their children.

“They make too much to get support, but they don’t really have enough to make ends meet, and usually there are multiple children in the home. Kids we are serving this year have families that have, like, 3 kids, 4 kids,” Springfield Public School nurse, Liesl King, shared. “Both parents work and it’s not quite enough to make ends meet. They obviously can’t do two jobs because then nobody is home.”

Jean Grabeel, recent Director of Health and Human Services for Springfield Public Schools, hears the concerns. “Everyone is concerned about rising costs for food and everything—just balancing out what income you have and making choices about it. Asking yourself, ‘Do I put gas in the car, or I do I buy food, or do I pay rent?’ There are economic challenges to our families.”

Inflation can be devastating to low-income families. The cost of school lunch has nearly doubled in the past five years; it is nearly $900 per child for the school year. It is an additional expense many families can’t absorb.

Changes to school-provided meals, alongside record-breaking price increases, are why the Weekend Backpack Program is crucial to nearly 1,600 school children. The program is intended to reach children who need nourishment and connect them with healthy food.

“It has an impact,” King said, “They look forward to it. The kids say that’s what they had for the weekend. It makes a difference. They’re more prepared to learn. They don’t have that hungry tummy or they aren’t feeling sick.”

Mrs. Jackson, a counselor at Hubble Elementary School, shared, “I have seen firsthand how the food bags have been a huge blessing to students and families in need. With food prices increasing and grocery bills going up at alarming rates, families are struggling more than ever to make ends meet.” She shared how she was especially touched by 5-year-old Kassandra, whose face brightened with a big smile when she walked into her classroom. Kassandra said, “Thank you so much for the food! My family really needs it.”

We can solve this problem for so many local students. Will you help Ozarks Food Harvest work to ensure children experiencing hunger in southwest Missouri don’t have to worry about their next meal? Think of five-year-old Aria, who told Ozarks Food Harvest, “When I’m hungry I feel sad. I’m really thankful for what you do.”

Help make a difference in local children’s lives by donating or volunteering today. Your compassion creates smiles on the faces of the children you help.