In our land of plenty, hunger continues to be problem.
One in four Michigan children lives in poverty, and that puts them at risk of not getting enough food.
Nearly half the people Gleaners Community Food Bank helps—at least 40 percent— are children younger than 18. Sadly, that need is far from being filled.
Gleaners actively works to eradicate hunger, targeting a five-county area— Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland and Wayne—in southeast Michigan. It provides 45 million pounds of food each year to Michigan’s hungry via its 600 partner food pantries, schools, soup kitchens, shelters and nonprofits.
“Last year more than 317,000 children in southeast Michigan qualified for free or reduced fee lunches -- about 3,000 more than the year before,” says Natalie Fotias, marketing manager for Gleaners. She shares Kids Count in Michigan data, where from 2006 to 2009 the number of students who qualified for reduced-cost school lunches jumped 26 percent, and 45.8 percent of Michigan students qualified.
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Each of the five counties Gleaners serves saw double-digit spikes over those three years—Livingston, 55 percent, to more than 5,500 students; Macomb, 59 percent, to more than 54,000; Monroe, 47 percent, to more than 8,800; Oakland, 45 percent, to more than 61,000; and Wayne, a 14 percent rise, to more than 186,000.
Hunger isn’t just a gnawing pain in a child’s belly. “(It) has a big impact on a child,” Fotias says. “Kids that are hungry can’t focus in the classroom, (and) studies show they lag behind their peers and typically aren’t able to make that gap up later in life.”
She shares some scary statistics:
"Insufficient nutrition puts children at risk for illness and weakens their immune systems, (making them) 90 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health," according to John T. Cook, Ph.D., associate professor at Pediatrics of Boston and primary author of “Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation” (2009). That includes higher rates of hospitalization, and adding to the hidden costs of hunger.
In Livingston County, Vicki Smith, program director for The Connection Youth Services in Howell says the biggest misconception local residents make about hunger is that it doesn't exist.
"Or that it's just a minor problem," she said.
And with such a strong link between homelessness and hunger, the youth organization which serves teens and families in crisis, says there is a "huge" need, which is why they partner with Gleaners Community Food Bank to help feed the hundreds of clients they serve throughout the year.
"For the youth not living with their families, there is a great need," Smith said. "They don't have that family support and really are on their own having to get the resources they need just to stay alive."
Donations to help the program are always being accepted. New socks, gloves and hats are being requested for the winter months ahead, as well as any non-perishable food item.
Join Patch in our virtual food drive, which runs through Nov. 24. Click here to help! Then share this with your friends and family.