Just how big a problem is childhood hunger in the greater Waco area? It’s probably more significant than you think, especially if your children get home-cooked meals in a warm and engaging family setting.
The sad fact is this is a major problem in our town. Eighty-seven percent of the children in our area are in the school free and reduced lunch program — long accepted as a reliable indication of poverty — so we know family finances are limited when it comes to outside food. These students in the Waco area are what folks would call “food insecure,” but that’s probably too nice a word for it.
I spent a lot of time this past weekend thinking about this data, especially in light of a Sunday Q&A in the Trib about the devastating impact of poverty on children in Waco Independent School District. Teachers do that. So much of what happens in school is based on decisions that come from a thoughtful analysis of numbers. So here are some of the numbers that I worry about.
One number that kept rolling around in my head was 1,100. That is the number of children who get weekend food assistance from Pack of Hope.
McLennan County Pack of Hope is a non-profit organization that provides temporary food assistance to students over the weekend. Single servings of nutritious snacks are packed in bags each week to be distributed by school counselors to those children in real need. It gives these kids something to tuck into their backpacks just in case they become hungry over the weekend.
And this isn’t just a Waco ISD problem. These students are spread out over 17 school districts in our area. It’s hard to imagine that so many local schools have students living in this kind of fragile state. But they do. We have a significant group of kids who qualify as “homeless” on these lists. Imagine the choices that face a child when he or she is both hungry and homeless. It is unimaginable, particularly in a city that prides itself on its Judeo-Christian values.
Another number that I could not get out of my head was 66. From the noon school meal on Friday to school breakfast on Monday, a full 66 hours pass. That’s a long time.
Good news: Volunteers from Pack of Hope make sure those 1,100 kids don’t go hungry during that time. Hungry children act out not only at home but in school, disrupting the education of others and making matters difficult for themselves and educators as well. Hungry children just have more trouble learning. And hungry children certainly don’t test well.
I worry about test scores, but I worry more that hunger stands between a child and that child’s ability to learn what he or she needs to know to be a happy, well-adjusted adult. If we want these children to enjoy and champion the American Dream, we first have to fill their stomachs.
Another critical number: 100. It’s good to know 100 percent of funds donated to Pack of Hope go toward food for kids. Volunteers run this non-profit. Monetary donations go toward the purchase of food. By joining with McLennan County Pack of Hope you can be confident that your donation is going to a practical solution to the problem of child hunger in the greater Waco area.
Tickets are available from packofhope.org or by calling 254-772-0975. If you can’t make it by to have spaghetti, you can take it to go. You can also make a monetary donation or get with organizers and host a food drive. Now is the time to give so that children will have security in knowing that they have food over the weekend.
Civic leader Mary Duty is co-owner of Poppa Rollo’s Pizza and an educator at Cesar Chavez Middle School.