I’d like you to meet Jody. Jody is eleven years old and attends elementary school in your community. He’s a good student, has a perfect attendance record and often stays after school to help out his teachers with some task or another. Jody is almost always courteous, polite, and genuinely loves being in school. Some of his classmates think that’s odd. After all, who would ever choose school over the freedom to do anything but being in school? There must be something different about Jody.
School will be out soon for the summer. Everyone in Jody’s class is anxious and looking forward to the last day of school. Everyone, that is, but Jody. While his friends and classmates are looking forward to lots of swimming, camping, fishing or sports – Jody isn’t looking forward to any of these things. In fact, Jody spends much of his time, as of late, worrying. He wishes the summer would fly right by and that the next school year would just suddenly arrive. Some of his teachers think that’s odd. After all, who wouldn’t be excited to have some much needed time off to enjoy fun in the sun? Something was definitely different about Jody.
The oldest of three children to a single-parent Mom, Jody stays out of trouble and always looks out for his younger siblings in all things. He is wiser about life than most eleven year olds should be and sometimes feels as though he has to be the strong one in his family when his Mom can’t. Jody’s Mom is by no means a bad person or an inept parent. She does the very best she can to support all three children and rarely allows herself any kind of luxury. She has a job, works long hours, and somehow magically finds ways to keep their family car in working order – by rights that car should have gone to the graveyard years ago. Times are tough. Jody’s Mom works really hard to make ends meet but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Some nights he hears her sobbing after everyone has gone to bed. Why does there always have to be a struggle? Everyone back at school seems to have it easier. Jody thinks there’s something different about his family and every time summer comes around – times get harder.
Because Jody’s Mom doesn’t make a lot of money, it qualifies him and his siblings for the free or reduced breakfast and lunch programs at school. Jody always goes to the cafeteria for both meals every school day. There is food at home, but not a lot of it. Being the strong one, he thinks that if he can eat enough at school each day it means that his siblings can get larger portions of what food is available at home. Jody has learned to be frugal. He saves portions of either breakfast or lunch and keeps it in his backpack for a snack later in the day. Jody wastes nothing.
For someone like Jody, and literally millions of other U.S. kids, summer break from school doesn’t mean fun. It means hunger. More than 20 million children get free or reduced-price lunches on an average school day but only 1 out of 7 can access free summer meals that they are qualified to receive, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Your city and state, the federal government and many local charities might offer summer food programs for kids so they don’t have to be hungry when they are not in school. You can help by supporting and/or donating to programs that help these at-risk children.
Here are some statistics on hungry children in America.
- More than 16 million children in America are at risk of hunger. That’s more than 1 in 5.
- 15.7 million children in America live in poverty right now.
- 18.6 million children benefit from SNAP (food stamps).
- Over 20 million children get a free or reduced-price school lunch on an average school day.
- Only 10.5 million children get a free or reduced-price school breakfast on an average school day.
- 6 out of 7 children who qualify for a free or reduced-price school lunch do not currently access free summer meals.
Organizations like No Kid Hungry and Share Our Strength work hard to make sure no kid in America grows up hungry. They weave together a network of community groups, activists and food programs to catch children facing hunger and surround them with nutritious food where they live, learn and play.
Jody’s story and the stories of so many others like him are an unfortunate and harsh reality in your community today. Too often they hide their hunger and never ask for help. The hidden hungry among us need our collective support and compassion. Donate to your local food pantry, support your school’s food programs or join organizations like www.nokidhungry.org and www.shareourstrength.org today. Hunger in your community is very real and the most vulnerable are often children. The story is not about how Jody is different. The story is about how you can make a difference in Jody’s life. Help fight hunger in your community today.