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No More Classes, No More Books And No More... Food?
Updated June 7, 2016 6:18 AM
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(LAWRENCE CO.) - Summer break means higher food insecurity for children across Indiana.

Nearly 3,500 kids in Lawrence County - 51 percent of its public school students - have reliable access to nutritious meals thanks to free or reduced-price lunch and breakfast programs during the school year.

Tami Silverman CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute report, yet when school ends, many of these young people struggle to get the fuel they need to thrive.

In fact, 23 percent of children and 14 percent of households in Lawrence County are deemed "food insecure" - a term the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as a socioeconomic condition of limited or uncertain access to food that supports a healthy life. And it happens in every corner of the state.

Rural areas tend to have the highest rates of food insecurity, with urban areas running a close second. Meanwhile, suburban areas usually have the lowest rates. Indiana data reflect the trends.

Rural Fayette County had the highest child food insecurity rate in the state at 26 percent, while rates reached 22 percent in predominately urban Marion County. Suburban areas have lower rates of food insecurity, but even in Hamilton County, which had the state's lowest concentration, 14 percent of children - nearly 12,000 - are food insecure.

Families struggling to afford food adopt coping mechanisms, with many making multiple trade-offs each month. Experts report struggling families must often decide between having food or utilities, transportation, medical care, housing, and/or education.

However, Emily Weikert Bryant, Executive Director of Feeding Indiana's Hungry (FISH), says "buying cheaper food is the general route for food insecure households with children."

Bryant says many others get by with help from families and friends or by selling or pawning personal property. More than a third even water down food or drinks, including infant formula.

Not surprisingly, the lack of consistent and nutritious food has significant implications for child development and well-being. The National Institutes of Health found that food insecurity affects the academic performance, body weight and social skills of school-age children. Feeding America reports food insecurity puts kids at higher risks for chronic health conditions, behavior problems such as fighting, hyperactivity, anxiety and bullying, as well as truancy and school tardiness.

When classes are out, these children cannot rely on the consistency of school food programs for meals that may not be provided at home. While federal food assistance programs are invaluable to low-income families to supplement their diets, Weikert Bryant notes "their benefit level doesn't change in the summer in spite of the fact that there are potentially five to ten fewer meals that each kid would be having outside of the home during the school year."

So this summer, FISH is teaming up with the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and local food banks to organize the Summer Food Service Program. The program coordinates locations around the state to serve meals to eligible children during school breaks. Tina Skinner heads up the Summer Food Service Program at IDOE. Skinner reports that approximately 80 of Indiana's 92 counties will have summer food sites with variable service days and hours. You can find those sites by calling 2-1- 1, by visiting the program's website at www.doe.in.gov/nutrition/sfsp- parents-page, or by using IDOE's new text option. Simply text "food" to 877-877.

The sites that serve those children need help, whether it's time, talent or treasure. Efforts of both Feeding Indiana's Hungry and the IDOE rely heavily on volunteers. Most food pantries and soup kitchens have limited, if any, paid staff, making volunteers vitally important. Experts in the field report great appreciation for donated product while simultaneously noting that every can coming into a food bank must be checked, sorted and inspected. Monetary donations afford the greatest flexibility, allowing food banks to leverage each dollar into multiple meals based on their ability to buy in bulk.

Summer is not all about swimming pools, camps and lazy days for every Hoosier child. We all can play a role in ensuring that our children and our neighbors' children have the basic nutritional building blocks they need to grow and succeed. By working to ensure Hoosier kids have access to adequate, healthy food all year round, we can positively impact every child's physical and mental well-being, academic achievement and future economic productivity.

Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI



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