The effects of food insecurity can be life-altering. For kids, missing meals can result not only in poor health and behavioral challenges, but also significant learning loss.
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing many disruptions for school-age kids, children facing summer hunger during extended school closures could fall even further behind their classmates. Based on pre-pandemic estimates, the effects could be felt by more than 310,000 students in southeast Michigan who rely on free and reduced-price school meals, but new projections estimate that number will grow this year.
Research from the National Education Association demonstrates that children from families who are not sure where their next meal may come from are more likely to have lower math scores and repeat a grade, among other challenges. As the school year approaches, and with it anxiety about academic achievement, an equally important concern is how high the rate of childhood hunger could rise.
“If the school day is virtual, how can we ensure these kids are going to be fed?” said Rachelle Bonelli, vice president of programs at Gleaners Community Food Bank. “We are working with school districts to employ a variety of distribution models to meet their unique needs. It may be a case-by-case basis, and we are committed to providing the nutritious food our kids and their families deserve.”
One impactful way to help reach children in need as school support programs are in progress is Gleaners’ Hunger Free Summer Plus campaign that launched in June.
Citizens Bank and other generous donors continue to match donations made to Gleaners dollar-for-dollar through Labor Day, Sept. 7, 2020. During the campaign, every dollar given provides six meals for a hungry child.
The campaign has already supplied vital support to 50,000 households each month through Gleaners’ COVID-19 emergency response efforts, including nearly 70 drive-up food distribution sites providing fresh groceries to households in need. It also has helped fund Gleaners’ Summer Food Service Program, providing groceries or meals at sites across the region. Food distributions are located in high-need areas throughout southeast Michigan, including at many local schools.
“It’s been a blessing for the community,” said Justin Hauser, director of student development at the Academy of Warren. “The benefits the service has to our students’ achievement is vital. It’s not just the lunches they are missing but also the dinners.”
At the Academy, 94% of students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. The students rely on food provided in-school, as well as meals received during after-school programming. To bridge this significant meal gap, Gleaners increased the monthly drive-up food distribution at the Academy to occur twice monthly.
“This is uncharted territory for everyone. There is no manual,” Hauser said. “Thank goodness for organizations like Gleaners who help us remain here for our families and put safety first.”
As the fall approaches, the rate of childhood hunger is expected to rise. A report by Feeding America released in June estimates childhood hunger in Southeast Michigan could grow to nearly 24% in the coming months. While there continue to be many unknowns about the upcoming school year, there is also uncertainty about how governmental food assistance programs may operate in the months to come.
Without continued intervention, thousands of additional families may be left vulnerable.
Gleaners is committed to remain a reliable food resource for children and their families during the school year ahead.
“Our aim is to provide food security for these families. With consistent access to nutritious meals, we can ensure kids have the best possible academic and health outcomes,” Bonelli said. “COVID-19 may result in many devastating effects — but childhood hunger does not have to be one of them.”