August 26, 2015
by Colleen Callahan

In the U.S. today, 16 million children face hunger. While hunger hurts everyone, it is particularly devastating to children. Children facing hunger may perform worse in school, incur more developmental impairments and struggle with the social and behavioral problems that impact their ability to learn.

That’s why the Feeding America network of food banks works hard to reach children in need. We work to meet them where they are – so in the summer, that means in their housing communities, libraries and parks. And when children head back to school, Feeding America feeding programs head back with them. Through programs like School Pantry, we help feed children and their families at their school.

This past school year, I took a trip to Santa Maria, California, to speak to educators at Fairlawn Elementary about hunger in their classrooms and the impact of its school pantry.

Mark Muller serves as pupil personnel director for the Santa Maria-Bonita school district, which is located in a low-socioeconomic area. “We host the Healthy School Pantry – sponsored by the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County – once a month for families that attend our schools. We give each family a bag of healthy food, but we also offer cooking demonstrations with the food their receiving. The families really do love it.”

The Healthy School Pantry – and the schools other feeding programs such as breakfast, lunch and snack – have had a positive influence on students’ performance. “Before we broadened our food service programs, including Healthy School Pantry,” said Mr. Muller, “there were many students who’d be hungry when they came to school sometimes. They might get a stomach ache at 10 in the morning it was awfully hard for them to focus and learn.”

“But the pantry and our feeding programs have made a difference,” Mr. Muller continued. In fact, since beginning the programs our attendance rates have continued to rise. Last year, the attendance rates at Fairlawn were over 98 percent on average, which is really high for our area. Students who come to school more often perform better academically, and so I think that our school pantry and other feeding programs are definitely part of the solution to improving children’s ability to learn.”

“The Healthy School Pantry plays a critical role in our school,” adds Toni Kelly, principal at Fairlawn Elementary. “Because even if children are receiving food to eat, many of our students have limited varieties of healthy food at home.” Ms. Kelly says that she sees a big difference in children who receive healthy foods and those who do not. Unhealthy diets contribute to behavior issues and swinging energy levels. “Our families love the school pantry, because most of our parents here are hardworking and want to feed their children better food. The pantry provides them with an opportunity to do that.”

“The Healthy School Pantry has been a blessing to our school,” concludes Ms. Kelly. “In addition to providing families with food, it provides our school with an incredible sense of community. “Once a month, it brings more than 200 families together. The children get excited about food, and we all learn healthier habits that help our students immediately and also give them a better shot at a bright future.”

*Colleen Callahan is a communication manager and content producer at Feeding America.

Tags: Fighting Hunger in Action , Child Hunger , California , Foodbank of Santa Barbara County

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