‘Coming Together’ conference focuses on ending childhood hunger

WILMINGTON — Community activists ranging from elementary students to retirees joined together at the Chase Center Monday morning to discuss a common goal, ending hunger in Delaware for the “Coming Together: A Community Response to Hunger” conference.

Hunger is enough of a problem across the state that The Food Bank of Delaware and its network of hunger relief partners report having assisted 242,000 individuals in 900,000 visits last year.

“Without organizations like the Food Bank, it’s hard to imagine where some of our citizens would be,” Gov. Jack Markell said during his opening remarks. “We want people to know that support is out there and they can get help if they want it.”

To read more about the problem of hunger in the First State, visit delawarestatenews.net/section/hunger/

To read more about the problem of hunger in the First State, visit delawarestatenews.net/ section/hunger/

The conversation quickly focused on childhood hunger in Delaware and across the nation. Some of the students in the audience admitted to participating in the conference because their families have faced hunger but many kids are afraid to admit the problems their families face at home.

“We need to get rid of the stigma of using a food pantry or the Food Bank because bad things happen to good people and we need to realize that it could easily be us in that position,” Charlie Copeland, state committee chairman of the GOP. “We all need to help with something, whether it’s math, baseball or food, and it’s something people shouldn’t be ashamed of.”

A student asked a follow-up question, “what if we see someone being made fun of at school for it?”

“You need to do the right thing and stand up for others if you see it happening, because no one should be made fun of for asking for help,” Mr. Copeland added.

Kids who come to school hungry face challenges with concentration, motivation, academic performance, illness and behavioral problems, but with easily accessible school meals, these problems subside.

With summer break quickly approaching, so is a worrisome time for families who struggle to keep food on the table for themselves and their children.

During the school year, about 32 million kids eat school lunch and 14 million eat school breakfast. According to the Food Research and Action Center, 20 million students receive free or reduced-cost meals, but not once school is out of session.

FRAC reports the federal Summer Food Service Program, a program providing lunch to students during the summer months, established in 1968, was an initial step to reduce summer hunger but the program faces many obstacles. The most prominent are the suburbanization of poverty and transportation.

Despite changes in society over the past 47 years, SFSP hasn’t changed. Only areas where 50 percent or more of students receive free or reduced-price school meals are eligible and meals are served on-site at churches and community centers so 36 percent of low income kids live in areas ineligible for summer meals and only 21 percent of low income kids are able to get to the designated locations to receive summer meals.

SFSP is under consideration for reauthorization in congress this summer so changes could be made but the issue of childhood hunger goes further than just making sure bellies are full. It’s important that they are getting filled with healthy and nutritious options.

Luckily, when it comes to eating meals at school, more than 92 percent of schools have adopted School Nutrition Standards.

“Students are now consuming more fruits and vegetables at school than ever before and the higher standards are working because with increasingly nutritious foods, there is no increase in food waste from schools,” said Kevin Concannon,under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Standards at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Food Bank also has seen an increase in the quality of food it can provide to those in need with more farms and grocers donating fresh produce, dairy and meat rather than conventional boxed or canned goods.

Those who are on a limited income but do have enough money to shop for all or at least some of their groceries need to make healthy choices on their own in stores full of unhealthy choices.

“It all comes down to education,” Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, said. “Unhealthy habits can be hard to change so the earlier we educate our children and families, the easier it will be to break these habits.”

Sen. Colin R.J. Bonini, R-Dover South, said it may be a long process before unhealthy options are reduced from our grocery store and restaurants, but it is bound to happen.

“As people continue to make better choices, the market will respond,” he said. “Things have already begun to change but it’s up to us to continue making the healthy choice because it is us, the consumers who can drive the change we want to see.”

For more information about hunger, visit fbd.org or nokidhungry.org.
To read more about the problem of hunger in the First State, visit delawarestatenews.net/section/hunger/.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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