Winter in the South can be cold and muddy. So when the snow falls, blanketing the ground and blessing the tree limbs with fresh white, all our hearts skip a beat. It is simply beautiful.
But for many North Carolinian children, snow days mean hungry days.
Across the 18 Northwest North Carolina counties that Second Harvest Food Bank serves, 1 in 4 children are food insecure–meaning they do not have reliable access to healthy, nutritious food to fuel their growing bodies and minds.
While many of us crowd the grocery store checkout lanes buying bread and milk for our families in advance of the snow coming, too many Northwest North Carolina families find themselves balancing budgets that don’t always cover all their most basic needs. Working families frequently find themselves with incomes that do not cover the totality of their expenses between childcare, transportation, housing and healthcare: what is left over is what can be spent on food.
Some families are able to supplement their food budgets with SNAP benefits (food stamps), but the average allotment is only $1.40 per person per meal, meaning that before the end of the month this help often runs out. These families– and the families that do not qualify for food stamps–often access the food pantries and community meals made available by the Second Harvest network as another way to piece together their nutritional needs. Second Harvest works with 470 programs across 18 counties to do this work.
But even with all this assistance combined, school meals remain an essential cornerstone to feeding our children well. And while children may hoot and holler when they wake up to snow, looking forward to a day sledding and building snowmen, the reality is many of them might not eat.
School meals (via the National School Lunch Program) were introduced in 1946 to address the United States’ growing population of “nutritionally needy” children. Still today, children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level are eligible for free meals; families with incomes between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty level are eligible for reduced-priced meals.
Like SNAP (food stamps) and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), this federally funded program has become a foundation of nutritional support for our country’s youth: in nearly ALL of the 18 counties that Second Harvest serves, more than half of all children enrolled in school qualify for this assistance. In other words, it is more likely than not that the children in our schools come from families that cannot afford to cover the most basic need of food.