Wednesday, May 31, 2017

When the School Day Ends, Hunger Persists

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted our third Intersectional Happy Hour at Satellite Room. For our most recent one, we looked at the relationship between food security and expanded learning programs.

We were especially thrilled to co-host this event with D.C. Hunger Solutions and we welcomed their Director, Beverly Wheeler who shared a bit about the work they do to  end hunger in the nation's capital. We are also grateful to feature her as this week's guest blogger.

Can you remember what you did when you got out of school at the end of each day?

I would go in search of an afterschool snack. Lunch had been at least three, maybe four hours ago and I was hungry. Times haven’t changed that much — students are still hungry at the end of the school day. However, what has changed is what we can do to address the needs of thousands of children from food-insecure households once school is out.

One focus of D.C. Hunger Solutions (DCHS) is the full utilization of federal nutrition programs to ensure children don’t go hungry. There are two programs closely tied to out-of-school-time programming. The At-Risk Afterschool Meals program provides federal funds to community- and faith-based groups, schools, and public recreation centers so they can serve nutritious snacks and meals outside of regular school hours. Thousands of students in D.C. would not have an afterschool snack without this program.

The D.C. Free Summer Meals Program provides breakfast, lunch, snacks, and supper to low-income children (ages 18 and under) during June, July, and August at hundreds of sites across the city when school is out of session. One million meals have been served in the summer over the past three years, making D.C. number one in the U.S. in serving summer meals.

This year the Summer Meals program is operating from June 16 to August 25, 2017.

One in seven households in Washington, D.C. is food insecure, meaning they struggle to get enough affordable, nutritious, healthy food to feed the whole family.

On an average day during the 2015-2016 school year, nearly 32,000 low-income students in the nation’s capital ate school breakfast and more than 47,000 low-income students ate lunch, according to the Food Research & Action Center’s annual School Breakfast Scorecard. The number of students eating breakfast placed the District of Columbia third in the nation in school breakfast participation rates. It’s critical that we ensure these students have access to food after school and during the summer.

We are excited about the establishment of an Office of Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes. There must be an equitable distribution of high-quality, out-of-school time programs for youth in D.C. With more equitable access, we can provide afterschool meals to more young people in low-income neighborhoods that lack access to healthy, affordable, and nutritious food —such as Wards 7 and 8 — which have only three full-service grocery stores between them.

Let’s not forget that hunger is a product of poverty. As the wage and income gap grows in D.C., we will continue to see a growth in food insecurity.

Food insecurity has adverse effects on the health and well-being of the entire family. Parents will skip meals to provide for their children, which puts their health at risk. Children become anxious when they worry about their parents, sometimes resulting in depression. Teenagers often feel the need to step in to help the family, often skipping meals for younger siblings, dropping out of school, or even shoplifting.

Through afterschool and summer meals, we can work together to alleviate some of the hunger faced by our children, and seek solutions to ending food insecurity and poverty in D.C. 

Learn more about DCHS’ efforts against hunger.

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