By Samantha Culver
The Child Hunger Corps is a national service program designed to increase the capacity and capability of food banks to execute programs targeted towards the alleviation of child hunger. The objective of the program is to increase the number of nutritious snacks and meals served to children in need in local communities around the country. The Child Hunger Corps initiative is sponsored by the ConAgra Foods Foundation.
In August 2012, the third cohort of nine new Corps members were placed at Feeding America member food banks, bringing the current total to 15 Child Hunger Corps members working at food banks across the country. This post is by third cohort member Samantha Culver, Child Hunger Corps member at Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn, ME.
To give you all a glimpse into my last couple years of working to grow child hunger programs in the state of Maine, I would like to share some important lessons that were confirmed along the way. First and foremost, hunger is real. I am so grateful for the pureness of children and how they have yet to develop that challenging resistance to asking for help. Some children ask silently, like finding a way to get to school to get their BackPacks on Friday, despite living in a shelter 2 miles away because they were evicted the week before. Other students will come right up to you and say there is no food at home and thank you for the bag of produce you hand them at the School Pantry distribution.
Secondly, the short and long term effects of hunger are real. I found evidence of this both through my research with science backing the claim, as well as through my relationships with school staff and community members. They are the most eager and committed individuals to get child hunger programs in their schools because they see the results of hunger every day. One site coordinator emailed me once to say thank you because she had a kindergartner who came to school every single day hungry. She explained how having access to the School Pantry, “has made a huge difference in his level of comfort and ability to concentrate in school.”
One lesson that I will continually push to advocate for is that, ignoring hunger is much more expensive than solving hunger. The cost associated to hunger that builds as a food insecure child ages is astronomical. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about this to read the report titled, “Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation”, or simply go ask a teacher.
Finally, kids will eat healthy food and like it! I have either personally experienced this or talked to site coordinators who have on nearly a weekly basis during my service term. In last week’s Kids Cafe that I helped teach, we made fresh salsa and avocado yogurt dip with veggies and homemade pita chips; there were no leftovers. Furthermore, school and after-school staff are tirelessly working to expose children to more healthy foods. It was the site coordinators requests that drove the switch from a mixed box of snacks over to a healthy snacks box separated from a candy and cookies box, in the product we send to School Pantries.
I am so grateful for these experiences and the many others that will help me in my future as a professional and a lifetime advocate for hunger relief.