In 2009, 6.9 million infants and children relied on WIC benefits to eliminate hunger ("WIC"). However, this program also has limited benefits, with specific items that program participants can receive.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) offers free and reduced price lunches through the school. More than 19 million children received free or reduced price lunches, through the NSLP, in the 2008-2009 school year. All schools are eligible to participate, and participating schools "also receive agricultural commodities (unprocessed or partially processed foods) as a supplement to the per-meal cash reimbursements, in amounts based on the number of lunches they serve" ("National School Lunch"). Although this program helps ensure school-aged children receive at least one meal each day, it does not provide food for other meals, on weekends, or during school holidays, including summer break.
The School Breakfast Program (SBP) was created to help ensure school children were receiving a nutritious breakfast. In the 2008-2009 school year, 10.8 million children participated in the SBP, in more than 86,000 schools, each day. Eighty-two percent of these children received the breakfast free or at a reduced price ("School Breakfast"). However, again, this program does not address the other meals children need, in the evening, on weekends, and during school holidays. Nor does this or the NSLP address the needs of the younger children in the household that don't go to school.
This is such an overwhelming and critical problem, I felt there had to be something I could do to help. After much research, I found that our area was one of the many that had yet to implement Feeding America's BackPack Program. "The BackPack Program is designed to meet the needs of hungry children at times when other resources are not available, such as weekends and school vacations" ("BackPack Programs"). This seemed to be exactly the type of program our community could utilize to help offset hunger.
The program was developed at the Arkansas Rice Depot, when a local school nurse said that students were coming to her with dizziness and stomachaches, due to hunger. Through the program, backpacks are filled with food that children take home over the weekends or holiday vacations. The backpacks are filled with nonperishable food items and are distributed discreetly. A program can be developed to provide food for younger siblings in the home, as well as providing food during the long summer break ("BackPack Programs").
I contacted the local food bank to see if they had a program like this available. They didn't, but they were very interested in the possibility of starting it. Implementing this program is going to take a lot of work. A committee of community members willing to help, and build support, will need to be formed. I can contact local business owners to develop this committee. Once formed, we can make presentations at the wide variety of civic and business organizations in the area, to garner donations and help spread the word about the program. Organizations such as the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, Optimist Club, and others would be excellent places to start. Even the younger members of the community can become involved. As much of the work involved in getting this program off the ground will be an increased need of food donations for the local food pantry, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts can be encouraged to do an additional food drive, to help meet this increased need.
In the end, I know that many people who are lucky enough to have never gone hungry may not consider hungry American youth to be a concern for them. Perhaps they think about those suffering from hunger during the holidays, when food drives are more prevalent, but it rarely is a year-round concern for many. However, even if you've never gone hungry yourself, you are still indirectly affected by the youth who are not getting enough to eat. These children cannot grow up to their full potential, with increased health problems and reduced educational abilities being the most prominent concerns. This results in children who earn less over their lifetime, contribute less in taxes, rely more heavily on public assistance programs, are more likely to commit crime, and are more likely to produce children who also end up suffering from hunger, perpetuating a vicious cycle. By implementing a BackPack Program in our schools, our community can supplement the current public programs that don't adequately address this growing need.