Thinking outside the box to solve school hunger

Thinking outside the box to solve school hunger

Elizabeth Santiago is the School Partnerships Program Manager at Second Harvest Food Bank in Central Florida, working to engage our community in Zero Hunger.

From making new friends to getting to school on time, students have a lot to worry about on a daily basis.

one thing they are should not be You should worry about getting enough to eat. But according to the latest data, nearly one in five children in Central Florida is food insecure. They and their families may not know where their next meal is going to come from.

For some kids, it really is about not having enough food in the house. They might count on a free and reduced lunch at school to get through the day or find excuses to stay at a friend’s house for dinner. Others may not technically miss meals – but instead don’t get enough healthy Choices to nourish their bodies, which can affect long-term achievement.

According to Feeding America, children from food-insecure families are more likely to get lower math scores and more likely to repeat grade. This isn’t surprising: it’s hard to focus on fractions when you hear your stomach rumbling during class.

Hunger is also linked to chronic health problems throughout life, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. In areas where food is scarce, or money is scarce, fresh produce is one of the first items crossed off the shopping list. After all, healthy ingredients are generally more expensive, require more effort to plan and prepare, and are more likely to spoil and go to waste than highly processed foods.

It’s a serious problem, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Even when food assistance is available, students may not know about it — or they may think they don’t qualify. Social stigma can also be a major stumbling block, especially for older children and teens. If they must fill out a form, move to another building, or contact a school official to reach out for help, they probably won’t.

But this does not mean that there is no solution. The best strategy is to keep it low-pressure and low-key: focus on establishing a positive relationship with the student first; Then, get them in touch with programs in your area designed to destigmatize food assistance.

If we can get children healthy food in school clubs and classrooms, without requiring proof of financial hardship or an opt-in form, that removes some of the barriers to access. Another strategy is to give children a say on the resources designed to help them. Some Florida schools are piloting open-access stores that are managed by “students, for students” as part of the approved semester.

Other initiatives look at food quality, not just quantity. In “Fresh Market” programs, schools partner with local organizations to host farmer’s market-style after-school events where kids can try unfamiliar fruits and vegetables (and eat some at home for dinner).

There may be a long way to go when it comes to solving school hunger, but it starts with making access to food fun, friendly and open to everyone. To learn more about Second Harvest’s campaigns to leave no child hungry – and how you can help – visit

Elizabeth Santiago is the director of the School Partnerships Program at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

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