Childhood hunger in Philly: How can we help?

Today's guest blogger is George Matysik, the director of governmental affairs and public policy for Philabundance.

At Philabundance, the Delaware Valley’s largest hunger relief organization, we see the reality of hunger every day. Between the severe economic recession and the recent cuts to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as Food Stamp), it’s harder than ever for many Philadelphia families to put food on the table.

When hunger strikes, children are among the hardest hit. 

American youth are facing a hunger crisis. In 2011, 22.3 percent of Philadelphia children were food insecure, according to statistics from Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief charity. That’s more than 1 out of every 5 kids. In other words, in a classroom of 25 students, five of them may not have had breakfast that morning and may not have a nutritious meal waiting for them when they get home.

Imagine how an empty stomach affects a child’s ability to learn, play, and grow. Hunger damages children both physically and psychologically; such deprivation early in life puts them on a path towards an equally unhealthy future. Children living in food-insecure households are more likely to experience poor overall health, developmental delays, and behavior and emotional problems, according to Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities. Quite simply, if we want our kids to experience the joys of a childhood with the energy to excel in class, we must work together to ensure that they have enough to eat. Furthermore, in a city in which more than two out of every five children is overweight or obese, a focus on fresh, nutritious food is crucial to improving the health and the lives of our children.

Luckily, there are solutions to childhood hunger. For instance, Philabundance hosts two dedicated childhood nutrition programs: KidsBites and Baby Manna. Through KidsBites, Philabundance staff and community volunteers distribute healthy food, including fresh produce, to students and their families. KidsBites distributions are held once a month at Lowell Elementary School in North Philadelphia and twice a month at Stester Elementary School in the City of Chester. Baby Manna, Philabundance’s annual Mother’s Day fund drive, raises money for caregivers of all kinds to provide nutritious formula and food to infants and children. In the 12 years this fundraiser has operated, Philabundance has raised over a half a million dollars for local children in need.  

However, the charitable food network cannot solve hunger alone. Rather, a partnership between governmental and charitable efforts is key to fighting childhood hunger throughout the US.  For example, First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced that all children in school districts where over 40% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch will receive free school meals. On the state level, one great initiative is Governor Corbett’s School Breakfast Challenge, which encourages Pennsylvania schools to increase the percentage of students receiving school breakfast.

Though the challenge of childhood hunger may be vast, there are numerous ways that you can get involved. Consider hosting a food drive, making a financial donation to Baby Manna, or volunteering at a childhood feeding program such as KidsBites.  Furthermore, be sure to voice your support of childhood nutrition programs to local, state, and federal elected officials, and to advocate for policies that guarantee every child in our community is healthy and well-fed.


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