Food For KIDS
Children need nutritious food to grow and thrive. And they need it every day. Unfortunately, over 90,000 children in Central and South Arkansas are food insecure, meaning they aren’t sure when or where they will next have a nutritious snack or meal. The impact of childhood hunger is immediate and long-term. Hungry children are sick more often and are more likely to be hospitalized than food secure children. Hunger impairs physical and intellectual development. Hungry children have lower academic achievement than food secure children, as well as more behavioral problems. Adults who were hungry as children are ill prepared and less productive in the workforce. While hunger is very much a personal issue, it is also a community issue because chronic hunger impacts the economy and quality of life in all communities.
Nationally, Arkansas ranks 3rd in child food insecurity with one in four children being affected by food insecurity. In some of our rural counties, that rate is as high as one in three children. At the Arkansas Foodbank, we are committed to exploring ways to create seamless access to nutritious food for children who are food insecure. We are working to answer questions such as: If a child is food insecure, how often do they have nutritious snacks or meals when they are not in school? How can we make sure children have access to nutritious food at night, on weekends, holidays and during the summer?
Food For Kids – a focus on effective, cost efficient, and replicable hunger relief programs targeting children. As we researched the answers to our questions, three strategies emerged that clearly met the criteria: backpacks and school pantries, afterschool snack and meal programs, and summer feeding.
Arkansas Rice Depot started Food For Kids— a food pantry for students in public schools—which has been replicated in 40 states across the nation and most recently in Mexico. In 1994, an Arkansas public school nurse noticed some children arriving at school listless and hungry. These children said their school lunch the day before was the last meal they had. The nurse reached out to Arkansas Rice Depot to see what help was available. Arkansas Rice Depot responded immediately by launching the Food For Kids program, sending hungry children home with backpacks filled with food every weekend.
In 2016, we will seek to provide backpacks filled with kid-friendly and nutritious food in every school in our 33 county service area where 90% of the school population qualifies for free and reduced lunches, so students have adequate nutrition for evening and weekend meals.
School Pantries are readily accessible sources of food assistance for low-income children aged 0-18 and their families. School pantries operate much like other food pantries, with the exception that the pantry only serves school children and their families. Sites are either located on a school's campus or close by, have set distribution schedules and offer ongoing food assistance services.
- In 2015, the Arkansas Foodbank worked with 8 school pantries to provide over 40,000 meals to school children and their families.
Afterschool Snack & Meal Programs
Afterschool snack and meal programs operate in local nonprofit organizations and churches, and include child-centered activities. Many children come to these programs at the end of the school day and participate in tutoring programs as well as physical and creative activities and are served a nutritious snack and/or meal. For many children in these programs, this is "supper" and will be the last food they have until breakfast at school the next morning.
- In 2014, the Arkansas Foodbank partnered with 23 afterschool programs to help provide 2,420 at-risk children with 241,769 snacks and 49,418 meals afterschool.
Summer feeding provides crucial nutrition during the time school is not in session. If food-insecure children are not in school, where do they find food during the summer? The best answer is at a summer feeding site. Most sites provide breakfast, lunch and possibly a late-day meal. Many sites are "open" meaning the children do not have to be enrolled in a program (which many cannot afford); they can show up at meal time and be fed.
- In 2014, the Arkansas Foodbank partnered with 4 different organizations to serve over 17,000 meals to 355 children throughout the summer.