One in four Michigan children lives in poverty, and that puts them at risk of not getting enough food.
More than 40 percent of the people Gleaners Community Food Bank helps are children younger than 18. Sadly, that need is far from being filled.
Gleaners actively works to eradicate hunger, targeting a five-county area—Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland and Wayne—in southeast Michigan. It provides 45 million pounds of food each year to Michigan’s hungry via its 600 partner food pantries, schools, soup kitchens, shelters and nonprofits.
But the need continues to grow.
“Last year more than 317,000 children in southeast Michigan qualified for free or reduced fee lunches—about 3,000 more than the year before,” says Natalie Fotias, marketing manager for Gleaners.
In 2009, according to Kids Count in Michigan data, 45.8 percent of Michigan students qualified for a free or reduced-cost lunch. That's a 26 percent jump from 2006, according to Fotias.
In Dearborn, the statistics are even steeper.
For 2011-12 school year, 13,739 of the Dearborn Public Schools district's 19,000 students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Just five years ago, that number was around 9,000.
Numbers for 2012-13 were not immediately available, though the district anticipates that the number increased.
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Each of the five counties Gleaners serves saw double-digit spikes over those three years—Livingston, 55 percent, to more than 5,500 students; Macomb, 59 percent, to more than 54,000; Monroe, 47 percent, to more than 8,800; Oakland, 45 percent, to more than 61,000; and Wayne, a 14 percent rise, to more than 186,000.
Hunger isn’t just a gnawing pain in a child’s belly.
“(It) has a big impact on a child,” Fotias says. “Kids that are hungry can’t focus in the classroom, (and) studies show they lag behind their peers and typically aren’t able to make that gap up later in life.”
She shares some scary statistics:
- Children receiving insufficient nutrition are 90 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health (Source: John T. Cook, Ph.D., associate professor at Pediatrics of Boston and primary author of Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation)
- Even a short spell of malnutrition can have long-term effects on children's cognitive development (Source: The Effects of Poverty on Children by Jeanne Brookes-Gunn and Greg J. Duncan)
- Kids who don't get enough to eat likely fall behind in their studies, too, putting them at a disadvantage from their properly fed peers (Source: Harry J. Holzer’s The Economic Costs of Poverty in the U.S.)
Simply put, a healthy, balanced and nutritionally complete diet does a body, a brain, and the whole society good.
How can you help? Join Patch in our virtual food drive, which runs through Nov. 17. Click here to help! Then share this with your friends and family.