Meeting Kids Where They Are to Prevent Child Hunger
Hunger isn’t always obvious. In children and teens, hunger disguises itself as behavioral issues, dropping grades and isolation. Perhaps no one knows this better than teachers and school staff, who are often the first to identify when students aren’t getting enough to eat at home. Crocker School Pantry coordinator and library aide Jackie Scholfield is all too familiar with the effects of child hunger.
“Last year, I met a high school student who was living by herself. She said she hadn’t eaten anything but crackers for a week,” recalls Jackie. The student, supporting herself, was dealing with dietary restrictions that made finding food even more difficult, and she looked tired. Jackie continues, “With Ozarks Food Harvest’s help, I was able to get her almond milk, juice, turkey. Things she could eat.”
This student is part of the 1 in 7 children facing hunger in southwest Missouri. Students like her rely on school meals as a primary source of nutrition, but during weekends and breaks, many kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Children who experience hunger on a regular basis are at risk of long-term effects like chronic illness, depression, and developmental and social delays. Even short bouts of hunger can impact a child’s school day. It’s hard to focus when you’re hungry. That’s why Ozarks Food Harvest partners with schools to provide hunger-relief programs – like school pantries – directly to kids.
Jackie shares, “You can tell some kids come back really hungry when school starts in August, and families feel the need on long weekends. The longer kids are at home, the more the need is. If they’re hungry you’ll see discipline issues. They’re just not with it. When we give them food, it helps them stay in school and get better grades and attendance.”
Every month, Jackie sends an announcement to families and students about Crocker School Pantry’s open hours, and anyone in need is welcome, no questions asked. The only qualification to receive food is to be a student, or family of a student, at Crocker. “I serve food no matter the circumstance because you just don’t always know what someone is going through,” Jackie explains.
Right now, rising food, housing and childcare costs are putting a strain on families who want to keep their children fed. Households whose budgets get stretched too thin have to compensate in other ways, sometimes sacrificing food to pay bills. And it’s not just the quantity of food that suffers – it’s the quality, too. In recent years, 3 out of 5 of households served by Ozarks Food Harvest’s network purchased the least expensive food, even if it wasn’t the healthiest option.
The Crocker School Pantry is facing the same economic challenges, but a partnership with Ozarks Food Harvest allows them to provide fresh, nutritious foods to 100 individuals each month. “The cost of food is so much right now,” says Jackie, “but through Ozarks Food Harvest I can get these families meat, eggs, produce and basic ingredients at minimal to no cost to us every month. We’ve received grants for food storage from Ozarks Food Harvest that allows us to stock more fresh food.”
The Crocker School Pantry ensures students and families can keep meals on the table when times are tough, but school pantries are just one way Ozarks Food Harvest partners with the community to end child hunger. Thanks to supporters, The Food Bank also provides meals for kids through the Weekend Backpack Program, After-School Programs, and Summer Food Programs. Thank you for investing in the lives of children so they can not just survive but thrive.