The U.S. Congress will soon have an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the 16 million children in America today who live on the brink of hunger, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Congress will consider the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (CNR), which sets policy for programs that feed low-income children in school, out-of-school and at home, this year.
Solidifying strong federal support for nutrition assistance programs and augmenting services like nutrition education can help guarantee communities, families, seniors, and children across the country can access adequate nutrition to live active, healthy lives.
As the director of community health and nutrition for the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, Feeding America, I have seen the effects that a lack of healthy food and balanced nutrition can have on a child’s ability to learn, or a young mother’s ability to hold down a job and care for her family.
Feeding America, along with our network of 200 food banks, believe that everyone in our nation should have consistent access to nutritious food for a healthy, well-balanced diet—and we are amplifying this message during March, National Nutrition Month®.
According to our study, "Hunger in America 2014," the median monthly household income for those served through the Feeding America network is US$927. That includes individuals as well as families with multiple children. Living on such a tight budget requires families struggling with hunger to make very difficult choices—and, unfortunately, for many families this often means compromising on healthy food choices in an effort to stretch their overall budget. And the reality is, most of us, if put in that situation—where money is tight, time is limited, and the immense stress about whether my child will go to bed hungry—would make the same choices too.
The pressure to adequately provide for the entire household is particularly challenging for families with children when school is out. Only 16 percent of children who receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year participate in summer feeding programs. That means that for far too many children and their families, summer is a time of hardship and hunger.
We have an opportunity to ensure that no mom, dad, or grandparent have to make these difficult choices that compromise the well-being of their children. It’s up to us to ensure our families, neighbors, and communities can thrive—adequate nutrition is a critical building block towards creating healthy communities. Feeding America is calling on Congress to strengthen the federal nutrition safety net and invest in child nutrition programs. Our advocacy priorities for CNR will ensure more children have access to the food they need, especially when school is out: over the summer, on weekends, and during holidays. We also have a chance to streamline programs and increase their flexibility to make it easier for local program operators, like food banks, to reach kids any time and any place.
Congress can be a part of the solution by strengthening investment in federal nutrition programs and extending funds for nutrition education. The public can be a part of the solution by learning more about their local food bank’s nutrition initiatives and ways to get involved. Feeding America and our network are a part of the solution as we continue to work to help support millions of men, women, and children at risk of hunger.
As we celebrate National Nutrition Month®, as well as the strides our nation has taken towards focusing on health and wellness, let’s continue these advances and push ourselves to do even more. Every child in America deserves a full, nutritious plate and a bright, healthy future.