Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Hunger doesn’t take a vacation

It’s almost summer and all around campus, students are ready to start their internships, go on family vacations and a take a break from the pressure of school. But for many families in the US, summer is stressful time year because there is not enough food to go around. Over the summer, many families of the 21 million children that receive free and reduced price lunches through The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) see their food costs increase and struggle to provide enough for everyone.

One in six of these children at risk of going hungry receive lunch through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). SFSP has decreased childhood hunger in many communities, and with its 200 million more meals goal it continues to feed more and more children every year. This summer, instead of just focusing on internships and fun in the sun, more students should volunteer to help reduce childhood hunger in America.

Chronic hunger is something that we, as students at an elite university, don’t face on a daily basis, but is a problem that affects the whole country. According to the American Psychological Association, children who face hunger have an increased risk of homelessness, behavioral problems and depression. While other aspects of poverty may also explain these problems, the lasting impacts of hunger are evident.

The negative impacts of these behavioral problems are evident in schools. Food insecure children have a harder time learning in school. This can be because they are distracted or because deficiencies in minerals like iron negatively impact learning and memory. The Michigan Nutrition Standards found that hungry students were more likely to repeat a grade and get suspended for behavioral problems.

Over the summer hunger is compounded with summer learning loss or the tendency for children to forget skills learned during the school year. In addition to being hungry, many low-income students come back from summer vacation in the fall significantly behind more well-off classmates. One study from the John Hopkins School of Education found that by the end of fifth grade, low-income students are up to three grades behind in reading. All students are at risk for summer learning loss in math, but children in middle- and high-income households children are likely to improve in reading over the summer while low-income children fall further behind. The same Hopkins education study found that unequal exposure to summer learning programs explains up to two-thirds of the reading achievement gap between lower- and higher-income students.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses the SFSP to try to address both summer hunger and summer learning loss. The USDA reimburses non-profits, schools and camps serving food to children in low-income communities. The USDA also encourages participating organizations to have games and learning activities. But SFSP and many other programs like it are at risk of losing funding.

In September 2015, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that authorizes and funds programs like NSLP, SFSP and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), will expire. Many organizations and government officials are working hard to make sure all of the child nutrition programs are reauthorized and receive adequate funding. Some of these programs, like NSLP and SFSP, are permanently authorized and funding is the only thing Congress decides. But the millions of women and children who participate in the WIC program could see their benefits come to an end.

Stanford students should not watch as hunger continues to hinder the lives of children and families. Many students volunteer hundreds of hours to fighting inequality while on campus, but these problems don’t stop after our last final. Hunger continues to prevent children from learning in school and reaching their full potential in life. But there is a lot we can do to help. This summer, you should help by volunteering at a SFSP meal site, a food bank or a summer learning program. And even students that don’t have time to volunteer can support anti-hunger efforts by reading more about re-authorization and learning what members of the public can do to help nutrition support programs.

Contact Asha Brundage-Moore at ashab1 ‘at’ stanford.edu.