Teens at the Table

Teens at the Table

July 11, 2022 in Harvest Time Newsletter

Jerod Morey has a front row seat to the complicated world of teenagers and has witnessed how summer hunger, especially for teens, can be a struggle. “They want to be included and accepted, and they want to have a meal in front of them. Not everyone has those things.” Morey said.

As the Executive Director for Nathan’s Place and About our Kids, Inc., a summer camp that is dedicated to serving teens and teaching them lifelong skills, Jerod has journeyed with many of them through this complex part of life.

Teens are in an in-between space where they are treated like kids by adults but seen as adults by younger children. When childhood hunger is discussed, they are often overlooked, and when school lunch programs end so does access to regular meals.

Many adolescents in southwest Missouri are food insecure. For teens, there is a stigma around receiving help for food insecurity, and they will actively hide it. “Teenagers want it to look like we have everything together so no one will judge you,” one teen-aged girl shared. They feel embarrassed if others know their families receive charitable help, such as food pantry assistance. Ironically, these feelings are pronounced even in some communities with a high level of need, such as Barton County. One girl commented, “Yeah, it’s embarrassing to go. Like somebody seen you come up there, they always – ‘oh, she ain’t got no food.’ Then they are going to go tell their friends. Then somebody will come back and tell you, be like, ‘oh, we heard you ain’t got no food.’”

Adolescent food insecurity is associated with mood, anxiety, behavior, and substance disorders. “We don’t know what ‘s going on inside many homes,” Morey said. Because of that, Nathan’s Place offers “holistic, wrap-around services, such as meals, washers and dryers, showers, homework assistance, mentoring, prevention education and mental health awareness. It’s a safe haven.” No stigma, no questions. All are welcome. He says one key to helping these kids is feeding them, which is why they partner with Ozarks Food Harvest. “They help us bring more to the table – figuratively and literally. We provide consistently nutritional meals to our kids. By being a partner with Ozarks Food Harvest, we’re bettering our community and the youth that we service.”

Many of the youth help with food management for the whole family during the summer months. “A lot of parents are working, and kids are taking care of themselves. It’s 6 or 7 before their parents get home” Morey says. Sometimes it’s up to the teenager to provide meals for their younger siblings. They strategize about how to make food last longer for the whole family. They will often sacrifice getting healthier, higher quality foods to stretch limited dollars and get a larger quantity of food. “Some of our young people are in such dynamic situations,” he explained that many of them have non-traditional upbringings or homes. If there are younger siblings, the teens often take a parental role. “It’s kids helping kids or kids helping parents.”

Morey reminds us, “We don’t always have to do huge extraordinary measures to make huge impacts,” he says, “You can also just sit down and have a meal with a kid and ask them how their day was. A conversation to show someone that you care and that you notice them. Ultimately they’re just great kids living in their own circumstances.”

Nathan’s Place is a part of the About Our Kids, Inc. program in Lamar, MO. They opened as a childcare, grassroots organization in 1999, and have continued to grow with the support of their community. You can learn more about them at their website