Hungry for More Than Knowledge

By Jean Blish Siers *

Many years ago, when our son was in middle school, his personality changed suddenly in a way that felt different from the usual teenage angst and misery. He became sullen and silent. An excellent student, he wasn’t keeping track of schoolwork. One day, I rifled through his backpack. I feared, of course, drugs. Instead, I found two or three of his lunches that I had lovingly packed each morning. They were squashed, unopened, and uneaten, in the bottom of the bag.

Little Volunteer It turned out that the incredibly short time the kids were given to eat conflicted with the only time the kids had to talk with their friends, and my son chose socializing. We made a few changes – bigger breakfasts, lunches that were easier to eat and a promise from him to eat something … anything. And our problem went away.

For 13 million children in America, there is no such easy fix. They come from food-insecure households and for many of them, at some point during the school year, those free breakfasts and lunches are the only meals they get. It also means that from Friday lunch to Monday breakfast, they might go up to 68 hours without a substantial meal.

Multiple studies show the importance of nutrition for students to learn. Jamie Seaton, writing in The Washington Post this month, says, kids who go to school hungry may suffer an inability to concentrate and often fall behind academically. Hungry kids are more likely to miss school because of illness, and more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and develop behavioral problems as teenagers. They are more liable to drop out before graduation, which leads to lower paying jobs and a greater probability of being food insecure adults.

There are lots of great programs out there, besides free school meals, to help ameliorate this problem. Many school systems now partner with food banks or churches to provide backpacks of food for low-income students to take home over the weekend.

I’ve helped pack those bags, and while they meet a need, they are by necessity filled with processed, salty, and fatty shelf-stable foods, easy to zap in a microwave, and fill a stomach quickly. Fruits are packed in cans of sugary syrup. There isn’t a vegetable in sight. I wonder how those kids feel bringing home a meal that’s not enough to share with other members of the hungry household. What about longer breaks and summer vacation? And it bothers me the length that families must go to in order to cobble together a minimum of food for basic survival.

I’ve worked with high-poverty day-cares that would get loads of produce from Society of St. Andrew, bag it, and have it waiting for parents as they picked up children. They also provided recipes and helpful preparation tips. It’s not easy to do, but it’s doable. It would be great to get fresh produce into schools at all levels, and work with families to help them learn to prepare it. It takes time and staffing and a lot of dedication.

As we prepare for another big harvest season here in North Carolina, I’m thrilled that we are able to get so much food out to so many agencies that reach deep into our neighborhoods. But are we feeding 13 million children? And if we are not, who is?

* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.

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VOLUNTEER WAIVER

In the event I, or a registered family member, suffers any illness or accident requiring emergency hospitalization, medication, or other medical assistance while participating in a gleaning event, permission is given for any medical treatment which is deemed necessary and reasonable under the circumstances. I fully understand and comprehend that reasonable care will be exercised by the adult staff for this gleaning event to protect the safety of those involved. I understand that the field supervisor’s instructions must be followed at all times, and that I am responsible for any damages caused to fields, farms, or equipment by me/my family members not following these instructions.

Photos, videos, and other images in which I, or a registered family member, appear that are taken during gleanings may be used by the Society of St. Andrew for news coverage, newsletters, reports, displays, and for other print, broadcast, web, or electronic news or promotional purposes.

I do not hold the board, members, or employees of the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA,) or any volunteers liable for injury, bodily harm, accidents, or death of myself/my child during events sponsored by the Society of St. Andrew. Neither will I hold the person(s) who owns and/or operates the property from which we glean, salvage, or to which we deliver food, liable for accidents, injury, or death during the gleanings or other SoSA events.

For a PDF print version of this waiver, click here.

How the Story of the 12 Baskets is Connected to SoSA’s Name

Matthew 14:16-21

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

2 Kings 4:42-44

[…]the man of God […] said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.” His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.