"Easily distracted by other people eating"
Students eating school lunch at Yorkshire Elementary School in Manassas, Va., on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. (USDA photo by Lance Cheung)
Summer break can mean going months without free school meals and snacks for many hungry children. The U.S. Department of Agriculture program provides free summer meals, but with some school buildings closed and limited school bus service, it's hard to get the kids to the food. This weekend, the Washington Post ran a piece about a school bus "bread truck" in Tennessee, a USDA program that brings food to children in communities where the need is great during summer months.
The reporter meets many people while riding the bus, but spends a lot of time with one family in particular, the Laughrens. The mom is struggling to make ends meet—she works 12-hour shifts as a cook at a nursing home, but risks being fired if she brings leftovers home to her kids. She receives SNAP benefits, but they don't stretch as far during the summer months, when her kids aren't receiving two free meals and snacks at school each day.
Hunger and food insecurity has affected each family member in a different way, all of them equally heartbreaking.
"Desperation had become their permanent state, defining each of their lives in different ways," the author writes. Courtney, 13, is "rail thin," while Taylor, 14, has been "stockpiling calories whenever food was available, ingesting enough processed sugar and salt to bring on a doctor’s lecture about obesity and early-onset diabetes." Anthony, 9, has decided to move out of the family's trailer and live with his grandparents. For Hannah, 7, hunger has "meant her report card had been sent home with a handwritten note of the teacher’s concerns, one of which read: 'Easily distracted by other people eating.'"
The comments section of the post is, as comments sections typically are, filled with poor-shaming and judgment, but there is also compassion, smart ideas about reducing hunger and poverty in America, and calls for lawmakers to strengthen, rather than snip, our country's safety net as so many families continue to struggle.
House farm bill negotiations continue, and while a version of the bill that included more than $21 billion in cuts to SNAP failed to pass last month, a current proposal to split the bill would leave vital nutrition assistance programs vulnerable to deep cuts.
Sadly, the Laughrens story isn't unique or even uncommon—50 million Americans are food insecure, one-third of them children. Now is not the time to slash programs that ensure that children don 't go to bed hungry and parents don't have to choose between providing their children with food or shelter. Now is the time to ensure a place at the table for all God’s people by using our voices to oppose cuts to programs that help hungry and poor people.
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