Even as an adult, there aren’t many feelings worse than being hungry and knowing that you have to wait a while to get access to your next meal. It’s almost enough to make someone act out and lose focus on day to day activities. It’s also something millions of children face on a daily basis – over 750,000 children in Georgia alone. Not surprisingly, if we look to our classrooms and communities, food insecurity is causing a number of behavioral problems amongst kids and teenagers.
In a six and a half hour day, a typical child eats twice a day: breakfast and lunch. After dismissal at 2:30 or 3:00, some children will go home, and others will attend an afterschool program. For those children that live in a household that struggles with hunger, there is a chance that they won’t get another meal until the next morning. Similarly, for those that attend afterschool programs that cannot provide meals, they face the same problem. So, while two meals in six and a half hours doesn’t sound too bad, the thought of four meals in forty-eight hours is enough to make anyone’s stomach growl.
When visiting Kevin Johnson, the program director at the Bellwood Boys and Girls club in Atlanta, Georgia, I asked him about why he decided to work with One2One Educational Services to implement the afterschool and summer meals program at his center. Kevin replied by saying, “the children were acting out, and I knew it was because they were hungry.” Johnson went on to say that the children were having trouble focusing on doing their homework, and possessing the energy needed to participate in the recreational activities in the after school program. Bianca Payton, the clerk at the same Boys and Girls club, said that the kids had so much more energy, and that she “noticed a considerable positive behavioral change in the way the kids acted once the meal was implemented.”
Mr. Johnson and Ms. Payton were speaking to a behavioral trend being studied across the nation. A study associated with Feeding America, found that children who are food insecure are more likely to exhibit increased behavioral problems, such as aggression, fighting, anxiety, and bullying.
Now, imagine being a child in the summertime, and there is no school to provide you with the only two meals you would regularly receive. Even as an adult, I would definitely be one to act out. You’ve probably heard the word “hangry” a combination of hungry and angry – children are not immune to this feeling. The summer time provides children a highly idle time where bad behavior, potentially caused by hunger, can get themselves and others into trouble.
To help combat this lack of access to meals and potential behavioral problems, the Georgia Foodbank association along with Bright From the Start and School Nutrition Authorities, are working to expand summer meal service across the state. The meals served at these sites meet USDA meal pattern requirements to ensure kids are receiving a healthy meal. Additionally, the sites provide children with an active and enriching space to congregate in the summer months.
With the help of http://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks you can find out where summer meals are located closest to you. You can also text FoodGA to 877-877 for the same result. Help a family member, a friend and maybe even yourself to alleviate the stress of finding your next meal.