Childhood Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation

When the school year ends, some kids face lack of food at home.

Rebecca Baader

Every morning as I drive to work, I pass the bus stop in my neighborhood. About 10 kids stand waiting to head off to school, and it hit me one morning that – statistically speaking – two out of those 10 students do not have enough food at home and struggle with hunger. Many of the students rely on school meals as their main source of nutrition. On the weekend when school meals are not available, too many kids go without the healthy food that they need. To bridge this gap, every Friday nearly 2,100 students in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls receive meal bags to take home as part of Feed My People’s Weekend Kids’ Meal Program.

But what happens for these students when summer comes? What happens when the buses stop running and the school bells stop ringing?

For most students, summer break is a time for “kids to be kids,” spending time playing at the park, swimming in the pool, and taking bike rides down the street. But with fewer resources available when school is not in session, many of our young people have the additional worry of hunger on their mind.

Previously, I rarely thought about hunger in a way that was so close to home. It was easy to think of hunger as a far-off problem – something that only happened in large cities or maybe even other countries and never something that could happen to my own neighbors.

On a trip to a local elementary school, I met a blonde-haired, blue-eyed fourth-grader wearing a hoodie and jeans named Molly. There was nothing unique about the way she looked; in fact she looked like any other kid that I would see around the Chippewa Valley.

After talking with her for a while she shared this with me: “When I’m hungry, I don’t want to play. I just want to curl up on the couch because I am tired.” Meeting kids like Molly has quickly shown me that hunger is not something you can see by just simply looking.

During the summer months when school is out, it is more difficult to directly reach students. Feed My People Food Bank’s partner food pantries and meal sites continue to offer nutrition to families in the summer, and many report a surge in the number of people served. The Community Table in Eau Claire has seen increases in the average number of residents coming in to have meals. Feed My People has offered a Summer Weekend Kids’ Meal Program for many years, but it can still be extremely difficult to find and serve the children who are no longer receiving school meals. To solve this critical problem, Feed My People has partnered with organizations in our community that serve children and youth in the summer to distribute the meal bags. These partners are located across Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls and have been a key component in reaching as many students as possible.

L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library is one of these partners in Eau Claire. The library’s youth services manager, Shelly Collins-Fuerbringer, shared her realization of the program’s impact. “A grandma signed up for meals for her four grandchildren,” Collins-Fuerbringer recalled. “She had been coming regularly, and then we didn’t see her for a couple of weeks. She called and explained that she didn’t have money to spend on gas or the bus to get to the library, so she was hopeful we would save the meals for her grandkids. It has been an eye-opener for me to realize that some of our regular customers have this struggle. Something pretty simple can make a big difference in someone’s life.”

This summer when the buses stop running and the school bells stop ringing, you can help more kids be able to just be kids. Spread the word about the availability of this program to those you know – organizations, teams, or clubs you or your child are a part of. You never know who might benefit.

SUMMER WEEKEND KIDS MEALS

The following sites are pick-up points for summer meal bags: 

• All Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls summer school sites
• Boys and Girls Clubs in  Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls
• L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library
• Hmong Mutual Assistance Association
• The Community Table
• Eau Claire Parks and Recreation–River City Adventures Program

To learn more about the program, call (715) 835-9415.