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Working Together to Help Address Child Hunger

Sep 27, 2017, 10:52 AM

Reposted from the Dairy Good blog

Research shows a positive link between good health, learning and academic performance. However, 16 million kids in America don’t get the food they need, which means their hunger becomes a barrier to learning. That’s right: hunger is a huge educational issue, which I consider a big issue for National PTA and the larger child health and education communities.

Schools are often best positioned to serve as the community’s center for meeting the needs of the whole child, even though the well-being of children is primarily the responsibility of the parents. According to Share Our Strength, while breakfast and lunch are available to kids in need at a free or reduced price, there is a larger than acceptable percentage of kids who are not eating these meals and are therefore still at school hungry.

In three years, I would like to see schools and communities address the issue of child hunger by:

  • Making breakfast universally available for all kids, so it can be eaten by all kids
  • Offering breakfast in every classroom
  • Making summer meal programs available in every community, so it can be enjoyed by every kid in need without stigma

We at National PTA know families are key players in addressing the childhood hunger epidemic. Families want to keep their kids safe from harm and want them to succeed. That said, there are real and valid barriers to doing so – either it’s lack of education and understanding about the resources that are available, it can be a parent’s bad experience with the education system, or it can be an issue of pride or fear of stigmatization.

PTAs, families and schools can partner to tear down these barriers. Together they can:

  • Engage families in the school community and provide better, targeted education about school breakfast, school lunch and summer meal programs available, and the connection between hunger and learning
  • Develop partnerships with food, farm-to-school and hunger organizations to help connect families with these needed local resources
  • Encourage and mobilize our community and local level PTAs to provide necessary provisions for families in the school community who are in need

We’re not alone in this effort. Fuel Up to Play 60, a school-based program created by America’s dairy farmers and the NFL with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is working to increase school breakfast awareness and participation to make sure all kids start their day with the necessary fuel to help them succeed through its campaign, Fuel Greatness.

With so many systems in place, children don’t need to be hungry. Through education families can better understand the resources available to them – which can start to make a difference in our schools and communities. Education, real, tireless education, and partnerships across the community are an important first step.

Otha Thornton is President of National Parent Teacher Association.