It is 6:30 a.m. and parents in many Montana homes are waking up their kids, while, preparing a simple breakfast of cereal, milk and fruit for them before they leave for school. Now imagine a home where Mom had to leave for work at 6:00 a.m., and Dad came home from work at 11:30 the night before and is trying to rest. The children need to wake themselves up, get dressed, and eat before leaving for school if there’s food and enough time. Dinner the night before may have been pasta and sauce with a small glass of milk. That will not hold them until it is time for school lunch the next day, unless the school has a breakfast program.
This scenario is all too familiar for thousands of Montana families, including single parent families, trying to earn a living while having enough time and money to ensure that kids are properly fed. This situation plays out year round but becomes particularly challenging on weekends, school holidays or during summer when school is out because children are home, parents are working and there is little food at home. It is equally challenging for children coming home from day care to find there is no food for supper.
The Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger is holding a statewide summit at Montana State University in Bozeman on Sept. 23-24 to bring this issue to light and to demonstrate pathways to end child hunger. The summit will showcase best practices towards ending childhood hunger, create opportunities to meet others from their community, and provide resources to initiate public and private community action. Lori Silverbush, co-director of the film. “A Place at the Table” will be the keynote speaker and lead a discussion of the varied aspects of child hunger in the Nation.
In Montana, more than 1 in 5 children – nearly 48,000 struggle with hunger and food insecurity. Food insecurity means limited or inconsistent access to healthy and nutritious food for growing children. Hungry children come from hungry families. Income is the single largest factor in determining if a family will have enough healthy food. Studies by the Montana Food Bank Network have shown repeatedly that families feel compelled to first use their limited dollars on rent, utilities, child care, medical costs, transportation, and other fixed expenses, with little money left for food.
The impact of food insecurity in children is serious and unacceptable. Lack of good nutrition effects their growth and development from infancy on, reduces immunity, increases sick days in school, increases risk of repeated grades and lowers chances of graduation. Food insecurity affects health by increasing the risk of children developing chronic diseases and obesity. Hungry children also show multiple social and behavioral problems that in turn impact their academic success. This reduces their potential for future education or learning a trade, becoming part of the state’s workforce, and achieving economic independence as adults.
There are those who claim that poor families should pull themselves up from their bootstraps and solve their own problems. To do that, a family needs boots to begin with. This includes a living wage that can meet the growing cost of food, housing and transportation, as well as affordable health care. Parents are the first and most important providers for food for their children, but are struggling to make ends meet.
Child hunger affects not just the family, but the community and state. Children are the future workers in the state, and the ability to acquire proper knowledge and skills in the early years can have lasting benefits for our economic progress in the future. Good nutrition is a key building block in a child’s life to maximize assurance of their future. Business leaders have a critical role in assuring the vitality of our future workers.
The good news is that there is tremendous work being done in the state to end child hunger. This will be showcased at the “Build a Stronger Montana: End Childhood Hunger Summit”. We encourage employers, faith groups, service organizations, health professionals, non-profit groups and others to attend this conference and learn about opportunities to resolve this problem in their own communities. For more information or to register for the Summit, go to https://tofu.msu.montana.edu/cs/childhunger2013
We can end child hunger in Montana but it will take the combined efforts of all sectors in the community and state to develop sustainable solutions.