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Column: Food pantries help fill meal gap for schoolchildren during summer break

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Nearly half of Indiana’s schoolchildren are enrolled in the school meal program, meaning their last day of school likely provided their last reliable meal until classes resume in August. The hunger they experience can have long term effects if we do not implement solutions.

The National Institutes of Health reports hungry children are more likely to suffer headaches, stomachaches, colds and infections, and are less likely to learn as much, as fast or as well as students with stable meals.

Research from Harvard University concurs that hungry children have more behavioral and emotional problems, are more anxious and aggressive and therefore are more likely to receive school suspensions.

Hoosier native Jim Morris, former executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, said the research reveals alleviating hunger is the most urgent step needed to help young people thrive.

“We talk about education, good health, productivity, creativity,” Morris said. “But the hungry person has no chance, especially the hungry child.”

The federal Summer Food Service Program reimburses organizations that feed low-income kids during summer. Last year, the

program served more than 3 million meals to 54,000 Hoosier youth, numbers that have risen 13 and 36 percent, respectively during the past four years.

Low-income families can locate a local summer food program by

dialing 2-1-1.

Private charity also can make a difference, as donations to food banks and pantries fall during summer.

“In the summer their work is doubly important because kids that don’t have school meals can have meals provided through partnerships developed by food banks with community centers, park departments, schools and the faith community,” said Morris, who now is president of Pacers Sports and Entertainment. “You can have a lot of confidence in the food banks all across our state.”

Indiana’s 11 food banks work together through Feeding Indiana’s Hungry (feedingindianashungry.org) to stock 1,700 food pantries, which then provide food to hungry families.

“Someone looking to help can contribute financially, donate food or volunteer at a local food pantry or regional food bank to make sure that food is getting to folks who need it and particularly kids in the summer,” said Feeding Indiana’s Hungry Executive Director Emily Bryant.

Bryant also appeals to employers because hunger is a workforce development issue. Feeding America, the national food bank association, says hungry children are less likely to stay healthy and to do well in school, thus are far less likely to become productive working adults.

In response, Bryant invites employers to have workplace food drives, encourage volunteerism and make financial donations to food banks and pantries, while Morris encourages all Hoosiers to be part of the solution.

“We have enough food. It’s a matter of distribution. It’s a matter of access,” he said. “So little does so much and goes so far, and the profound impact on the child’s life is overwhelming.”

Bill Stanczykiewicz is president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute. Send comments to letters@ dailyjournal.net.

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