The release of The Hunger Games earlier this year electrified local teens and tweens. With its young cast and strong visuals, the fictitious story of a teenage protagonist fighting to survive in a strange future-world was an ideal novel to become a Hollywood movie. But if you think childhood hunger is a make-believe problem set in a fictional location, just talk to the staff at your local school. Many students in our area have confronted their own version of hunger, and while they’re not battling in a strange winner-takes-all game, for them, the issue is far too real.
At the Central Virginia Food Bank (CVFB), the true story of childhood hunger is often heard. A local guidance counselor shared her observations of students coming in after the weekend break, remembering how “they were so lethargic on Mondays because they had been without food.” Another administrator shared his reaction at seeing how many students at a school gathering responded affirmatively when asked whether they’d ever been hungry or in doubt about the source of their next meal. When almost half of the students during the group activity responded that they had experienced this, he said, “I was shocked.”
From weekends to holidays to teacher workdays, there are numerous gaps when area kids are at risk for missing meals. But none of these may be as worrisome as the summer months, when many children in the region lose access to the breakfast and lunch program they relied on at school. Economic pressures on families during this season, such as increased childcare and meal costs, can send more to food pantries and feeding programs in search of healthy food for themselves and their little ones.
That’s why CVFB has a number of programs that target childhood hunger and the typical gaps in feeding that occur for food-insecure children. From the end of June through August, CVFB’s Summer Feeding program partners with sites around the region to provide daily weekday breakfast and lunch for children in summer programs. This summer, CVFB will aim to serve 2,500 children each weekday, resulting in a total in excess of 160,000 meals. This program and others help prevent children from missing out on accessible, healthy, and reliable meals when school is out.
For thousands of local families, summer brings trips, time off, and fun in the sun. But for thousands of others, the same season brings new challenges for getting enough to eat. “The good news is that so many in our community recognize the contrast and seek to help,” says Fay Lohr, CEO of FeedMore, the umbrella organization of the CVFB and Meals on Wheels. “We’re grateful that so many young people use their vacation time to organize donation drives, volunteer by sorting food, or help their parents deliver meals to neighbors in need.”