Summer is the hungriest time for children in North Texas. Without the free or reduced school meals that feed 54 percent of local students, countless children are left hungry and hopeless. For nearly three months, children wonder when they’ll eat their next full meal. They return to school unnourished and ill-equipped to learn.
In the metroplex, one out of four children faces food insecurity. This includes missing meals, worrying about food for tomorrow, lacking proper nutrition and going to bed hungry. It’s a crisis that cannot be ignored, especially in the summer.
Hunger Stunts Child Development
According to North Texas Food Bank (NTFB), undernourished elementary students make lower math scores and are more likely to repeat a grade level. Even when students aren’t in school, going hungry affects both their mental and physical development.
Andrea Helms, director of communications and marketing at Tarrant Area Food Bank, said, “Children who are hungry throughout their childhood don’t develop as well as they should. That will affect your physical ability, as well as mental capacity and emotional development. If your tummy is growling, it’s hard to concentrate. We can’t say, ‘Well, we fed you in the school year.’ These things apply in the summer too.”
North Texas Combats Child Hunger
Several organizations have stepped up to ease the local hunger epidemic. From Dallas to Tarrant County, nonprofits work to diminish hunger and provide hope to children. Each of these organizations is looking for volunteers, as well as food and monetary donations, to feed hungry children in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Metrocrest Services Sacks Hunger
Three years ago, Metrocrest Services began to serve the City of Dallas, Denton County, Carrollton, Farmers Branch, Addison and Coppell. When federal programs proved unsuccessful, this organization launched Sack Summer Hunger, an effort that lasts until Aug. 9.
Through its summer program, Metrocrest Services aims to provide about 130,000 meals to hungry children. “We’re serving kids from 4 years old to 18,” Nicole Newkham, senior director of development and special programs, said. “We want to make sure they’re full. Instead of giving them an individual serving of cereal, they get a full box.”
For just $45, you can feed a child for the entire summer. “We’ve done what we can to cut down on costs,” Newkham said. “Short term, giving them more food costs more. But long term, it saves more. We want to be sure that 18-year-old kid is as full as a 7-year-old kid.”
Plano Makes New Plan To Fight Hunger
NTFB leads several efforts to feed chronically hungry children, including Food 4 Kids – Plano, a recent partnership with Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere. The mayor launched this program in response to a local crisis: an estimated 130,000 people in Collin County live at or below the poverty level, more than half of which are children.
This program began last spring as an expansion of NTFB’s backpack program. Mark Israelson, director of policy and government relations, said, “We’re taking something that has been extremely successful and expanding it to all campuses in Plano.”
Mayor LaRosiliere is working to raise $1 million in the next three years to feed as many as 1,800 hungry children every week. “Food 4 Kids is addressing the most fundamental need that we have as people – simple nourishment,” the mayor told NTFB. “There’s no way kids can learn if they’re not eating.”
Food Bank Focuses On Child Development
Tarrant Area Food Bank fights hunger by providing food to about 30 sites in 13 counties, dominantly Tarrant County. Since beginning in 1982, Tarrant Area Food Bank has distributed more than 340,000,000 pounds of food and household products. During the summer, the food bank makes additional efforts to feed at-risk children
“We provide an equivalent to the backpack program called summer packs. The food is in backpacks – not sacks,” Helms said. “They have nonperishable food items for kids to access while parents are at work.”
Tarrant Area Food Bank keeps each child’s education in mind. Its website explains, “Children who consume nutritious food are better students. They concentrate better, they retain more information and they perform better on tests. Children whose meals and diets are unsupervised, irregular and without nutritional content are at high risk for obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and bone and joint deterioration.”
A Dollar Makes A Difference
According to the Hunger Busters organization, Texas ranks in the top four states with the highest rate of food insecure children. This crisis is overwhelming, but the solution is simple: give what you can. Just $1 provides three meals through NTFB. If you can’t make a monetary donation, see Feeding America’s list of places to volunteer.