Would you send your child to bed on only half a hot dog and a handful of Cheerios? Too many families in the Philadelphia region face such anguishing deprivation every day. The city is home to some of the most pervasive poverty in the nation, made worse by the recession.
Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District, which extends roughly from Northeast Philadelphia along I-95 south to Chester, has the awful distinction of being the second-worst district in the nation for the level of hunger. Only a Bronx, N.Y., district has a higher percentage of residents who suffer from malnutrition.
In Sunday’s Inquirer, reporter Alfred Lubrano detailed the grinding impact of food hardship on residents of the First District. Some families that would qualify for food stamps don’t know how to apply. Those who receive food stamps often run out of food before the end of the month, resulting in a rationing of supplies. To save food for their children, some parents, such as Melissa and Joe Scott of Juniata Park, will go for days eating only one meal, or nothing at all.
Researchers for Drexel University at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children studied food insecurity in 3,704 families from 2005 to 2009. They found 25 percent of adults cut the size of their meals or skipped meals. About one in 10 adults did not eat for a whole day; 11.3 percent of adults cut the size of their children’s meals due to lack of money or food. In the same congressional district, a fancy steakhouse offers a 22-ounce porterhouse on the menu for $48.
Undernourished children can suffer from a condition known as failure to thrive. Lack of enough good food can stunt the growth of their brains. By the time such children reach school age, they already are likely at a serious disadvantage for learning. Hunger in Philadelphia, of course, isn’t isolated to one district. The city suffers from the highest level of poverty among the 10 largest cities in the nation.
The troubling results of this study emphasize the value of free school lunch and breakfast programs in the Philadelphia School District. Far too many kids go to school hungry. For many children, a free meal at school could be their only food of the day. Government and social-service agencies need to do a better job of making sure that families who qualify for food stamps apply for the aid. In these tough times, government aid that’s available shouldn’t remain on the table.
A long-term solution is more jobs. But it bears repeating that local food banks are suffering from shortages and need donations. Two food banks locally are Philabundance (www.philabundance.org) and the Food Bank of South Jersey (www.foodbanksj.org).
Children are starving slowly in our midst, in this land of plenty.