(NNPA) – One in four children live on the brink of hunger in North Carolina. Three and a half million children in America, ages five and under, are food insecure. These are just some of the statistics recently released in a report by Feeding America, a network of churches and organizations striving to change this problem.
Locally, The Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina is a member of the Feeding America network and works throughout 18 counties in N.C. to address this problem.
“We really need to spread awareness and increase knowledge about this issue. There is hunger right here in our community,” said Daisy Rodriguez, Child Hunger Director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina. Second Harvest is a major distributor of donated food and grocery products in the region, collecting and distributing products to more than 390 nonprofit partner agencies that annually feed thousands of people in need.
According to the report, North Carolina is one of the states with the highest rates of food insecure children under the age of 18. Almost 20 percent of these youth under 18 are food insecure.
The state also ranks second with the highest rates of food insecure children under five years of age. In this age group the number jumps to 24.1 percent.
Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America, said, “We know that a child who is hungry and cannot learn becomes a man or woman who cannot earn.”
Rodriguez points out that many children are food insecure from the time they are born until they are of school age, which is the most crucial part of childhood development.
“The numbers are quite alarming,” she said.
The Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club located at Westend Ministries of High Point is one organization which receives the majority of its food supplies from the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina. The Boys and Girls Club operates a meal program called Kids Café, where they serve healthy meals to children who are in need.
“It provides a nourishing meal three times a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – for many children living below the poverty level. “Sometimes these meals and the meals served at schools are the only nourishing meals they receive,” stated Judy Mendenhall, director of Kids Café at Westend Ministries.
Mendenhall says the numbers increase once school is out. In the summer the program will feed 35 to 50 children a day.
The first Kids Café opened in 1989 in Savannah Georgia and has spread to over 1,700 established Kids Cafés in operation today. There is also a Kids Café in operation at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club at Ray Warren Homes in Greensboro.
Escarra said, “The startling fact that so many very young children in this country do not have adequate nutrition necessary to grow and develop into healthy adults is heartbreaking. It is all the more tragic when one considers that it is also entirely preventable.”