Young and Hungry
The Atlantic recently featured an article about increasing food insecurity among college students, from community colleges to elite institutions, from coast to coast.
Food insecurity is a more neutral way to describe hunger, just as collateral damage is a more neutral way to describe the maiming and killing of civilians in a war zone. While the injury done to children by hunger isn't as obvious as shrapnel wounds, hunger interferes with learning, cognitive development, attention and socialization (pdf), in short, with every ability young people need to succeed later in life.
And chances are good that some of these college students aren't new to being hungry. When several dozen early learning professionals came to an SEIU member lobbying day last week, several of them told me about hungry children in their care. These are some of the stories they shared:
Bertha Vessel, Head Start, East Baton Rouge, LA. Local 21LA
If you work with these kids, you know they talk about everything in the house. Sometimes when I talk to them about meal planning, they say 'well, we didn't eat anything last night,' or maybe they had bread or cold cereal and milk for dinner. They don't all even recognize simple foods like broccoli and green beans.
Then they eat like they haven't been eating and don't turn food down. That's how you know they've been telling the truth.
We hope we feed them enough. We try to give them a bigger snack because, who knows, they might not get anything to eat until the next morning.
LaRonda Davison, Head Start, Los Angeles, CA. Local 99
I have kids who hoard food or put it in their pockets for later. They say they want to take it for their brothers and sisters, or they say they want it for their mom.
If you've got a child that's hoarding and gorging because they don't know if there's going to be any food tomorrow, you've got to teach them to pace themselves or their stomachs will stretch.
Jennifer Brosnahan, Stepping Stones HCC, Joliet, IL. SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana (Local HCII)
Some kids ask for more food because they know their parents don't have any. They try to take extra, or I'll know they're hungry but then I see them hide their snacks in their pockets or cubby space. One three year old said she was hiding food because they didn't have any at home and she wanted her brother and sister to eat.
From birth to early adulthood, too many young people lack the most basic stepping stone to good educational performance: regular and nutritious meals.
I hope you'll join them today in asking Congress to fully fund President Obama's budget requests for early care and nutrition.
Step by step, a country as prosperous as ours needs to start taking responsibility for the young people that will build its future.
Image: Mary Kay Henry, SEIU president, talks with LaRonda Davison at the May 5th, Early Learning Lobby Day.