Delegate Henson’s Food for Thought: Childhood Hunger
If you asked the average American to quantify childhood hunger, you’d be likely to hear tales of children in developing nations. The reality is, childhood hunger is not limited to the developing world; its effects are present in just about every American city, and more Maryland communities than you might expect.
It was a mild day in April, in Annapolis, Maryland, after city schools had shut down in response to the COVID-19, when Ce’Nora approached the glass doors of the shuttered Stanton Community Center. She pressed her face up against the glass cupping her hands around her eyes to temper the reflection, in hopes of seeing inside. As her hopeful eyes peered through the glass, she exclaimed “Ms. Downs, Ms. Downs are y’all open today?”
Ce’Nora and her family are one of nearly 800 Annapolis families that would be described by the United Way as being A.L.I.C.E. (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed).
ALICE presents a much more realistic picture of the challenges that many of today’s households face, describing families and individuals that are unable to support a “survival budget,” the minimum needed to pay for basic necessities like housing, food, healthcare, childcare, and transportation.
Like many other American children, Ce’Nora lives in a two-generation household where her primary caregiver is her maternal grandmother. She and her siblings rely on their grandmother’s fixed income, consisting of a mixture of retirement pension and social security benefits, to get by each month.
Prior to COVID-19, the girl’s daily routine consisted of attending the school in her community, Annapolis Elementary School, where each day she could count on the availability of free breakfast and free lunch provided by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)-backed student meals program. After school she attended the Stanton Center’s reading intervention program which was offered to second graders struggling to grasp reading skills to help them read on grade level. While at the Center she could count on a hot meal provided by the Maryland Food Bank after school.
However, by April 2020, closures due to COVID-19 meant that the young girl’s school had been closed for an entire month prior to her arrival at the Center that April day. It meant she had gone a month without the nutrition resources she had come to rely on. When it was discovered that the nearest meals distribution program offered by her county’s school system was too far of a walk for the community’s youngest students, local leaders knew exactly who to call – the Maryland Food Bank.
The Maryland Food Bank stepped in to revive the network of food distribution that had been interrupted by COVID-19, amending the program to ensure the safety of the families and volunteers. Using the Stanton Community Center as a distribution hub, the Maryland Food Bank sent freshly prepared, pre-packaged meals to the Center, which invited families to pick them up at pre-determined times.
The intervention of Maryland Food Bank meals helped stabilize the young girl’s community during uncertain times.
Unfortunately, her story is not unique. This is but one example of the challenges being faced by families across Maryland. The landscape of feeding our state’s hungry children has changed rapidly, but one factor remains constant – the Maryland Food Bank is committed to ending childhood hunger.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the Maryland Food Bank has prepared and distributed more than 372,000 meals to Maryland’s children through the Grab & Go Meal Distribution program. The effectiveness of Grab & Go Meals lies within its ability to strike at the core of childhood hunger by providing meals to children through a network of partnerships with local non-profits such as the Boys & Girls Clubs and community centers throughout Maryland.
In 2019, more than 44% of students attending Maryland public schools qualified for free or reduced priced meals — a need-based student meals program available to children in household incomes between or below 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty line. COVID-19 school closures disrupted student meal distributions for more than 800,000 children throughout Maryland.
For these children and many others, the lasting touch of education is difficult to feel without a nutritious meal. It’s donations from generous donors that allow the Maryland Food Bank to intervene and seek to disrupt the cycle of hunger for our next generation.
On behalf of Maryland’s future (our children), thank you for your generosity.
About The Author
Delegate Shaneka Henson
Shaneka Henson is a Maryland Food Bank board member, attorney, and member of the Maryland House of Delegates (Legislative District 30A).
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