We have the resources to end childhood hunger
After more than 50 years battling hunger and poverty, only recently has it dawned on me that while we know how to love and care for all the children of our country, we don’t know that we know how.
Let me explain.
Our caring and loving starts when a child is born. Nothing is more beautiful than a nursing infant held in her mother’s arms.
But not all are born into bountiful loving arms.
We can fill this void with national food and nutrition programs that have been around for years. We seem to have forgotten or maybe never knew that these programs feed our children.
Is not a hungry child an abused child? Are we not all culpable, knowing we can prevent their hunger, their abuse?
Upon entering World War II, we discovered that many of our young men had grown up hungry and suffered such malnutrition that they were incapable of serving in the military.
We learned that food is a national security issue. This prompted food distribution that evolved into food stamps (now called SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), WIC, HeadStart, School Meal programs and others.
With a few modifications, these four programs would eliminate childhood hunger in America.
• SNAPs: More than 70 percent of groceries purchased with food stamps (SNAPs) feeds children. Sadly, 50 percent of Arizona’s eligible are not enrolled.
Eligibility is based on income, and the SNAP application process must be simplified to be no more difficult than filing a one-page 1040EZ income tax return.
If the IRS can accept this, then the Arizona Department of Economic Security needs to do likewise. Enrollment should be streamlined to “invite in” rather than “screen out.” We want all children to be well fed.
• WIC: The Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children is our best children’s food program.!
It provides vouchers for specific foods for pre- and post-natal women while promoting breastfeeding and food for children newborn to age 5.
Eligibility is based on income and health or nutritional risk.
Tragically, Congress has never fully funded WIC, and many eligible children are left out, left hungry.
WIC, like food stamps, needs to be based solely on income and fully funded so no child is waiting to get enough to eat.
• Head Start: The program was created in the 1960s to help low-income preschool children become ready for school.
It provides developmental services that are family focused, including education, health, nutrition and mental health.
While nutrition is only part of the program, it is understood that food is key to learning. There is a direct correlation between nutrition and cognition. Without enough food, learning is limited at best.
Opening enrollment to all children, not just the poor, would not only reduce hunger but also better prepare all our children for success in learning.
• School meals: Many children count on these meals because there is so little food at home. Depending on household income, children pay full costs, reduced cost or no cost.
I suggest that, just as education is free and universal to all children, school meals need to be provided at no cost to all children. Nutrition is key to the ability to learn.
Not only is this right for compassionate reasons, but it also is a good investment in our children for their greater success in learning, so they can be more productive and contribute more to America.
In an open letter to President Obama in the New York Times, Michael Pollan suggests: “Changing the food culture must begin with our children, and it must begin in the schools . . . by making lunch, in all its dimensions, a mandatory part of the curriculum.
“On the premise that eating well is a critically important life skill, we need to teach all primary school students the basics of growing and cooking food and then enjoying it at shared meals. . . .
“And we should immediately increase school-lunch spending per pupil by $1 a day – the minimum amount food-service experts believe it will take to underwrite a shift from fast food in the cafeteria to real food freshly prepared,” noted Pollan, author of ” In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”
For all of us, and particularly children, food demands our attention.
We need to start with a definition of “food.” In his letter, Pollan offers an approach, “That in order to be regarded as a food by the government, an edible substance must contain a certain minimum ration of micronutrients per calorie of energy. Such a definition would improve the quality of school meals . . .” And all food assistance programs, I might add.
To be precise, we can end childhood hunger by:
1. Defining food.
2. Simplifying the application process for food stamps.
3. Fully funding WIC for all children in low-income families.
4. Expanding Head Start to be free and universal for all children.
5. Likewise, by providing school meals at no cost to all children.
We do love and care about our children, and we can be sure they all have enough good, nutritious food.
We must call on our government to do what we cannot do individually – because charity alone cannot end childhood hunger.
We must insist that our members of Congress, our senators and our president make these changes.
Punch Woods ran the Community Food Bank in Tucson for 25 years.