In our land of plenty, hunger continues to be problem.
One in four Michigan children lives in poverty, and that puts them at risk of not getting enough food.
Nearly half the people Gleaners Community Food Bank helps—at least 40 percent— are children younger than 18. Sadly, that need is far from being filled.
Gleaners actively works to eradicate hunger, targeting a five-county area— Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland and Wayne—in southeast Michigan. It provides 45 million pounds of food each year to Michigan’s hungry via its 600 partner food pantries, schools, soup kitchens, shelters and nonprofits.
“Last year more than 317,000 children in southeast Michigan qualified for free or reduced fee lunches — about 3,000 more than the year before,” says Natalie Fotias, marketing manager for Gleaners. She shares Kids Count in Michigan data, where from 2006 to 2009 the number of students who qualified for reduced-cost school lunches jumped 26 percent, and 45.8 percent of Michigan students qualified.
Each of the five counties Gleaners serves saw double-digit spikes over those three years—Livingston, 55 percent, to more than 5,500 students; Macomb, 59 percent, to more than 54,000; Monroe, 47 percent, to more than 8,800; Oakland, 45 percent, to more than 61,000; and Wayne, a 14 percent rise, to more than 186,000.
In Northville Public Schools, there are 471 students who receive free or reduced lunch, and the numbers have been increasing over the past few years, according to Food Services Manager Robin Bolitho.
She said hunger can distract students from learning.
"It's basic that if their stomach is grumbling, they will be more focused on that hunger pain than they will be on what's going on in the classroom. I don't think you can pay attention to what's being taught if you're stomach is growling and all you know is you need food," Bolitho said.
She said people might be surprised to hear that there are children in Northville who use the free and reduced lunch program.
"I'm not sure how many people even know the program exists," she said. "I think if you've never needed the program, you might not even be aware of it. I think there's probably more people who could take advantage of the program and don't even know about it."
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Fotias agreed that hunger can cause problems in schools.
"Studies show (hungry students) lag behind their peers and typically aren’t able to make that gap up later in life," she said.
She shares some scary statistics:
"Insufficient nutrition puts children at risk for illness and weakens their immune systems, (making them) 90 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health," according to John T. Cook, Ph.D., associate professor at Pediatrics of Boston and primary author of “Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation” (2009). That includes higher rates of hospitalization, and adding to the hidden costs of hunger.
Hunger can be harmful to a growing mind, too. In “The Effects of Poverty on Children,” by Jeanne Brookes-Gunn and Greg J. Duncan, the authors state “Even short spells of malnutrition can have detrimental, long-term effects on the cognitive development of children during the critical early childhood years.”
The aftershocks of hunger don't simply fade away. It can hurt them later in life, too. A child not getting enough to eat can fall behind in their studies, according to Harry J. Holzer’s “The Economic Costs of Poverty in the U.S.," putting them at a distinct disadvantage from their properly fed peers.
Simply put, a healthy, balanced and nutritionally complete diet does a body, a brain, and the whole society good.
How can you help? Join Patch in our virtual food drive, which runs through Nov. 24. Click here to help! Then share this with your friends and family.
Northville Patch Editor Rebecca Jaskot contributed to this report.