Up in the Air: Food Insecurity

About 8% of children in the United States do not know where their next meal will come from. Within this number, 0.8% often miss meals because of poverty. This statistic represents not just a number, but real kids who have to deal with the growing problem of food insecurity.

Hunger affects those near us even more than the national average. According to the Arkansas Foodbank’s Ms. Jayne Kita, the percentage of kids who go hungry in Pulaski County is around 23.4% (15% higher than the national average), and the overall rate of childhood food insecurity in the 33 counties that the Arkansas Food Bank covers is 26.7%, making Arkansas the 5th worst state in the nation when it comes to hungry children.

In a school as affluent as ours, one might think that access to meals would not be a problem and that we would be an outlier in an ever increasing data set of hungry children. However, according to Mr. Steve Straessle, food insecurity still presents an issue, even for schools like ours. “The public schools and private schools participate in the free lunch program, and a number of our kids would qualify for that,” said Mr. Straessle. “But, we do it more informally. We reach out to the kids and ask if they need assistance, and, if so, we identify them to the cafeteria folks so that they can get their lunch.”

Still, according to Mr. Bill Miller, one of the cafeteria service providers for J & K Food services, the number of kids that actually end of receiving a truly free lunch is quite low. “Usually about five to ten kids per day (referring to L1 and L2) either don’t have cash or don’t have enough money on their card, so what we do is write their name down on a sheet of paper,” said Mr. Miller. “Usually about 90% of them will pay it back in the next day or so, but there’s always few kids who don’t and at the end of the year we usually just drop it [their debt].”

Still we can take this blessing we at this school have and in turn give back to those around us who are suffering. Foodbanks and programs like the Arkansas Foodbank’s Food for Kids Program (FFK) often depend on the help of volunteers, a role that all of us can fill.

“Traditionally, school pantries operate through volunteers from the school and community,” said Ms. Kita. “Families pick up the food boxes once a month, two times a month, or weekly, depending on the operations of a specific pantry. Food is picked up from or delivered to the pantry by the Foodbank, and volunteers work to sort the food and put it in boxes for distribution.”

Ms. Kita detailed how we have helped through yearly can drives.  “We have worked with Catholic and MSM [before],” said Ms. Kita.  “One of our member pantries receives food from Catholic’s food drive each year and this pantry, and the Foodbank receive donations from MSM’s food drive.”

To someone who has never experienced it, food insecurity might seem like a minor issue only affecting one aspect of one portion of the population, but it goes much deeper than that. According to the Arkansas Foodbank, hunger not only ruins a child’s home life, but his or her school life, too. By donating and volunteering, we can help fix this.

“The FFK program is designed to positively impact children who suffer from food insecurity and educational, physical, or emotional problems at school due to hunger at home,” said Ms. Kita. “Hunger affects their education, but the FFK program has proven results when it comes to delivering nutritious meals to curb child hunger that include better attendance, improved grades, better conduct, more interest in school, and better self-esteem.”

Click here to help combat hunger by donating to or volunteering with Helping Hand of greater Little Rock.

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