My guess is you won’t want to read this, because some of it’s unpleasant. But I challenge you, yes YOU, whose problem is probably not having food, but finding the strength to stop swallowing it.
Imagine heading to work every day on an empty stomach. Bad enough, eh? Now imagine heading to work, poorly nourished, and having to learn new skills.
Oh, but I’ll go further: imagine not knowing whether there will be food when you’re home.
I probably just made you hungry. Sorry. But this is stuff we need to think about, because an unbelievably one in six American children are food insecure. In southeast Michigan, half a million children go to bed hungry — one in five live in poverty. That isn’t a problem, people, it’s a tragedy. It is well proven that hungry children cannot focus on learning. If they cannot learn they are condemned to a life at the bottom of society.
A central goal of Gleaners Food Community Food Bank of Metro Detroit, headquartered on Detroit’s east side, is to provide healthful food for those chidren. Doing so isn’t a charitiable gift, it is an investment in the well-being of Michigan and society in general.
I’ve seen what Gleaners does first hand. I’m there regularly just lending a hand. You see it’s common sense that hungry children are sick more often, more likely to be hospitalized, and more likely to suffer physical, emotional and developmental impairment.
And that sickens me.
Specifically, under-nutrition before the age of three fundamentally changes both the brain’s structure and the central nervous system, impeding a child’s ability to learn. Subsequently, many adults who experienced hunger as children are not well prepared mentally, emotionally, physically or socially to perform in contemporary work environments. Child hunger can lead to greater absenteeism and workplace turnover. That affects us all.
In southeast Michigan 40 percent of emergency food users at Gleaners’partner food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters are children. So I am particularly impressed by — and want to help — Gleaners’ KidSnack and BackPack programs, which target school-age kids, better enabling them to learn and thrive.
Today, KidSnack provides 70 low-income schools in the tri-county area with healthful snacks to distribute to hungry students during the school day, or at after-school tutoring programs. Gleaners’ KidSnack bags are filled with good stuff like granola bars, cereal, dried fruit and pretzels.
What’s cool is that these bags are packed by school children who volunteer at the Gleaners Kids Helping Kids program. School groups tour the food bank facility, participate in educational sessions on hunger awareness and nutrition, and also pack KidSnack bags.
Meanwhile, teachers are worried that weekends are especially hard on children who get free and reduced-price lunches during the week, but little to nothing at home. That’s where Gleaners’ BackPack Program steps in, offering a take-home bag of food each Thursday or Friday that will provide children at least six balanced meals until they get to school on Monday. “The packs really help the kids,” said Pamela Green of William Grace Elementary. “Our school is closing and one of our students is worried that he won’t get a BackPack at his new school.”
Last fall, more than 4,000 of our community’s children at 37 schools were sent home with food at weeks’ end to sustain them throughout the weekend. The BackPacks are filled with easy-to-prep foods that are safe and appealing to eat without cooking.
While Gleaners focuses on serving high-need students in Detroit and Pontiac, BackPack, in this economy, has expanded to communities like Waterford, Troy, Warren, Plymouth, Birmingham and Auburn Hills. Indeed, hunger touches everyone.
Gleaners has been at it for 33 years. But it can’t do it alone, If you can help, and every bit counts, call 1-800-Gleaner. You could hold a food drive, volunteer at one of five distrubution centers, join its speakers bureau, organize a benefit event or a Gleaners bus tour, or make a donation. Of every dollar donated, Gleaners uses 96 cents for food and food programs.
We’ve got to help our children. And don’t you love them? Here’s a recent conversation:
Child: I like trains better than teachers.
Child: Because when I have gum, the teacher says, “Give it.”
Me: What about the train?
Smiling child: It says, “Chew, Chew.”
They are the future, folks. Let’s all do what we can.