The start of the day can be the determining factor between a good or bad day for many kids. If they start the day off with a good nutritious meal, they are likely to be engaged in the classroom and retain their learning. On the other hand, if they start the day off on an empty stomach, children are likely to be disruptive or absent from school altogether.
Most of us have the good fortune to know with certainty that we will have food each day. But that is not the reality for far too many of our neighbors in need. Think about how hard it is to concentrate when you’re hungry. For us, that’s a nuisance; for our hungry neighbors, it’s a regular occurrence. And, for children attending school, imagine the toll it takes on their ability to learn?
The East Valley served by United Food Bank has more than 62,000 food insecure children, and the child food insecurity rate is just below 25 percent. That means if your child is in a classroom of 30 kids, the likelihood is seven of those children probably do not know what, if anything, they will be eating for dinner tonight – and they may not get another meal until breakfast the next day at school.
When you look at the county level, the reality of hunger becomes even more appalling. United Food Bank’s service area is made up of eastern Maricopa County (Mesa, Tempe, Chandler and Gilbert), Gila and Pinal County, and the southern portions of Navajo and Apache County.
If you go to the outlying areas of Arizona, the hunger is so prevalent it impacts nearly one out of two children. Apache County right next to the New Mexico border has the highest child food insecurity rate in the nation at nearly 42 percent; right next door in Navajo County, the child food insecurity rate is 37 percent, and it’s still above 32 percent in Gila County.
But we can all take action to improve the outlook for millions of Americans and thousands of Arizonans. Every September, Feeding America designates September as Hunger Action Month, a nationwide effort to mobilize people throughout all 50 states to work toward ending hunger.
This year’s Hunger Action Month campaign we are asking you to consider how it must feel to live with an empty stomach, which puts a healthy life and a promising future at risk.
Let this Hunger Action Month be the beginning of your involvement in our fight to end hunger. The first thing you can do is become involved by donating your time or funds to United Food Bank. Volunteering is a great way to give back, and your donations multiply their impact through our buying power because every $1 donated allows us to provide four meals to hungry families.
You can also get involved on social media. This year, United Food Bank is asking you to think about what you couldn’t do without adequate nutrition by writing on an empty paper plate, “On an empty stomach I can’t ______,” and filling in the blank with something they couldn’t achieve without the nutrition we need to thrive. You can then join the conversation on social media by taking a selfie with your plate and using the hashtag #HungerActionMonth and tagging @UnitedFoodBank and @FeedingAmerica.
One more way you can become involved in our fight is through becoming engaged in the conversation surrounding childhood hunger. Learn as much as you can about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. Child nutrition programs touch the lives of millions of low-income children each day, and reauthorization provides an opportunity to improve and strengthen these programs. Research demonstrates the ability of the child nutrition programs to improve educational achievement, economic security, nutrition and health.
Contact your congressperson or their local staff and ask questions. Often they never hear from the people who elected them to office about where they stand on improving access to food for hungry children.
United Food Bank was able to work with all eastern Maricopa cities – Mesa, Tempe, Chandler and Gilbert – and all will be signing proclamations declaring September Hunger Action Month. it’s a great way to show our local governments’ commitment to ending hunger.
I have spent the past 30 years fighting at the local, state and national levels hungry people have access to nutritious food so they can thrive and improve their lives. I have met people from all walks of life who had no idea hunger was an issue in their own backyard, but I have never met anyone who said they were against children being fed. There is so much at stake for our future generations, and we must give them the best chance at a bright future.
– Ginny Hildebrand is president and CEO of Mesa-based United Food Bank.