Hungry children in rich America

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 2/8/2016, 9:27 a.m.
Sarah is 3 years old. She and her 6-year-old brother, Bryce, are inseparable except when it’s time for him to ...

(George Curry Media) – Sarah is 3 years old. She and her 6-year-old brother, Bryce, are inseparable except when it’s time for him to visit the summer food program that provides meals at a school near his Ohio home for children who otherwise would go hungry. Sarah’s too young to make the trip.

One morning after Bryce had his fill of food for the day, he made a detour before heading home. He walked to the trashcans and began rummaging through food others threw away. Winnie Brewer, the Food Services Supervisor in Marion City Schools, noticed the little boy and tapped him on the shoulder to ask why he was sifting through the garbage. “My little sister,” he explained. “She’s hungry.” Bringing her leftover food was the only way he knew to help.

”We run into a lot of situations where kids will come and say they have younger siblings at home,” Brewer said. “They always want to know if they can take something back.” After Brewer spoke with Bryce, staff members followed him home with a care package for little Sarah. This was a temporary solution to a huge problem Brewer worries about every day. “Until we see that child digging food out of a trash can, it doesn’t hit home,” Brewer said. “Once it does, you know you have to do something.”

Nearly 220,000 Ohio children under 6 are poor and young children of color are more likely to be poor. More than half (55.5 percent) of Black children, 40.3 percent of Hispanic, and 19.1 percent of White children under 6 in Ohio are poor; 21 percent of them live in families where at least one parent works full-time year-round; 47 percent have at least one parent working part of the year or part-time; and 32 percent have no employed parent.

Nearly 1 in 4 Ohio children lacks consistent access to adequate food – that’s 653,410 Ohio children of all ages in every corner of the state. Nationally, 15.3 million children were food insecure in 2014. The majority live in families with one or more working adults, but are still unable to consistently afford enough food to keep the wolves of hunger from their door.

There is no excuse for any child in America to go hungry or malnourished in the richest nation on Earth. Yet, child hunger is a widespread, urgent and shameful problem that cannot wait. We all have to do something – now. Bryce and Sarah (names were changed to protect their identities) are far from alone as shown in a new Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio searing report calling to end the childhood hunger many thousands of Ohio’s youngest children suffer every day. Babies, toddlers and preschoolers suffering hunger and malnutrition face increased odds of negative health outcomes during their years of greatest brain development. Food insecure children under age 5 are:

• Nearly two times more likely to be in “fair or poor health.”

• Nearly two times more likely to experience developmental delays.

• Two times as likely to have behavioral problems.