Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation
Over 6,000 Livingston County children lack access to food during the summer months
Livingston County, MI — Though many of us remember our childhood summers as times we traveled with our family, roasted hotdogs and marshmallows in our backyards and enjoyed carefree days under the sun, for far too many Livingston County children summer is a stressful time.
In Livingston County 8,320 children are food insecure – meaning they lack access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. In the summer the problem becomes worse as more than 6,000 children who received free and reduced lunch during the school year suddenly lose an important meal when lunchrooms close for the summer. Parents of these children experience stress as they are forced to choose whether they feed their children or pay their utility bills, rent, transportation costs, or other expenses vital to their family’s wellbeing.
One of the causes of childhood hunger in Livingston County is that there are too few food resources to generate meals for every individual and family. For example, more than five-million meals are needed to ensure every resident will have access to food in Livingston County. “The simple truth is, many of our neighbors and friends are only eating half of the meals they need,” said Michelle Ounanian, Program Director of Gleaners Community Food Bank and a member of the Livingston County Hunger Council. Though the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as “food stamps”, may alleviate some hunger pangs, the average food stamp benefit in Livingston County is only $4 per day per individual. It actually costs about $7.20 per person, per day to sustain a healthy diet.
Although food insecurity is harmful to any individual, food insecurity is especially devastating among children due to their increased vulnerability and the potential for long-term consequences. Several studies have demonstrated that food insecurity impacts a child’s cognitive development and is linked to poorer school performance. Hunger also poses serious risks to children’s health including weakened immune systems, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and fatigue.
In order to reduce the level of summer food insecurity among children to a level at or below that of childhood food insecurity during the school year, Congress has authorized $85 million for the United States Department of Agriculture to spend on developing alternative methods of providing access to food for low-income children in urban and rural areas during the summer months. As part of a pilot program the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (SEBTC) program will test a brand new idea for feeding children this summer. SEBTC will provide 5,000 eligible children in Michigan, and four other states, $60 a month per child throughout the summer, which is comparable to the monthly value of school lunches. The benefit dollars will be distributed through SNAP and the Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program. Several Michigan counties, including Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Midland, Tuscola, and Grand Rapids City Schools, are testing the WIC program distribution this summer.
The Livingston County Hunger Council believes SEBTC is a great solution to child hunger through the summer months. “The Salvation Army and community partners are providing about 7,000 meals to children this summer through a terrific program, called Summer Lunch Bunch. But we need to support other great programs that will replace the over 360,000 nutritious meals for children lost during the summer. Together we need to make sure that all Livingston County kids get the nutritious meals they need to grow up healthy and strong” says Donna Gehringer, Community Impact Director of Livingston County United Way and Livingston County Hunger Council member.
Until a more permanent solution to childhood hunger such as SEBTC becomes available, the Hunger Council is encouraging residents to get involved in their own community and take action against childhood hunger. Residents are encouraged to donate food to local pantries, especially kid-friendly nutritious food like peanut butter and jelly, granola bars, cereal, and soup; give quality fresh produce from their own gardens to local pantries; or pledge a monetary gift to Gleaner’s Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. “Participating in the Livingston County Hunger Council has been an eye-opening experience to me,” says Whitney Gherman, a graduate student at the University of Michigan and a participant in the Livingston County Hunger Council. “I never understood what hunger in America was like until getting involved with the hunger council, visiting food pantries, and measuring the impact gardens have on a community’s well-being. Knowing that I can make a difference in Livingston County is rewarding.”
If interested in volunteering or to receive more information about hunger in Livingston County please visit the Livingston County Hunger Council website at www.livingstonhunger.com or www.volunteerlivingston.com to volunteer. You may also email Kay Simmons, Community Garden Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the gardens.
Financial donations to support the council’s work to eliminate hunger in Livingston County can be sent to Livingston County Basic Needs Workgroup, with a designation to “Hunger Council”, c/o Livingston County United Way, 2980 Dorr Rd., Brighton, MI 48116.
For anyone in need of food assistance, call 2-1-1 for referrals to local food programs and pantries. For help with applying for government food assistance, call 866-453-2637 ext. 331. To apply for government food assistance on-line, visit www.michigan.gov/mibridges