“Food Insecurity”? Or “Hunger”?

by Melinda Tuhus | June 16, 2009 8:04 AM | | Comments (4)

elsie%20with%20kids.JPGWearing her “other” hat, as assistant principal for New Haven’s adult education program, New Haven State Rep. Toni Walker told a story about extreme hunger in New Haven. A woman who deals with all hunger all the time immediately began trying to figure out a happy ending.

Walker sat on the stage Monday morning with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro in the auditorium at Wexler-Grant School Monday morning at the listening end of a “listening session” about hunger in the state, in preparation for the debate about a five-year reauthorization of the Child Nutrition and WIC (Women, Infants & Children) Act.

The auditorium was half-filled with staffers of feeding programs and hunger policy wonks, as well as some parents and students. Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!, which organized the session, welcomed the speakers. The panel included experts on the many efforts that are part of the federal anti-hunger programs: the school breakfast and lunch programs, a child and adult feeding program, summer meals and WIC.

toni.JPGWhen it was her turn to respond, Walker (pictured) told her story:

The adult ed campus on the Boulevard includes a day care center, where the children are fed breakfast and lunch, she said.

“One day I watched many of the high school kids who came in; they were helping feed the [little] kids.” She noticed that breakfasts were disappearing with the teens. “I realized we had a whole population of starving adolescents in our school,” she said. “My program does not provide lunch; it’s an adult ed program. But we have over 400 children there who don’t get lunch or breakfast.”

“When we talk about the needs, we have to look at all of our children,” Walker concluded. “If we cannot feed our children, they cannot thrive. If they cannot thrive, we are failures.”

At the end of the two-hour session, Nolan spoke to a reporter about Walker’s story. She said she and a colleague began trying to figure out how to apply one of the existing feeding programs to her specific situation — “maybe the Child and Adult Food Care Feeding Program.”

rosa%20hunger.JPGDeLauro (pictured) chairs the Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, where anti-hunger advocates say she has been an invaluable ally in fighting to preserve and expand all federal feeding programs. At the event on Monday she announced that her subcommittee has added Connecticut to the list of states that provide a supper program for eligible young people, as the first step toward passage.

Kate Walton, program director for the Connecticut Food Bank, said the food bank will be starting a supper program this summer at the Elks Club in the Dixwell neighborhood. It will target 12- to 15-year-olds, who have, along with very young children, the greatest nutritional needs, but for whom little help is available.

Speakers proposed changes they’d like to see in the reauthorization: increasing reimbursement rates to keep up with rising food costs; increasing outreach efforts for the summer feeding program to get eligible participants enrolled; and eliminating the reduced-price category for school meals and just serving free meals to all students at or below 185 percent of poverty level ($39,000 for a family of four). The New Haven public schools already do that, providing free breakfast and lunch to all students in the system. Superintendent Reggie Mayo said studies have shown that the less time between eating and test taking, the higher the students score. More information can be found at the website of the D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center, including participation and funding levels for Connecticut’s child nutrition programs. The data show that nine percent of Connecticut households are “food insecure” — in plain language, hungry or at risk of hunger.

elsie%20and%20lucy.JPGNolan (pictured with her group’s mascot, Elsie, the same mascot pictured at the top of the story with some Wexler Grant students headed to their free lunch) said her goal is to maintain and improve these federal programs that provide a lifeline for millions of Americans and tens of thousand of Connecticut residents.

“If you feed them, they will come,” was a mantra repeated by many speakers, but first, eligible children and their families need to know they can be fed, so the programs must increase their outreach.

For example, Nolan said just over a quarter of eligible children (those who qualify for free or reduced price lunch during the school year) participate in summer feeding programs in Connecticut, “and that’s on the high side,” she noted.

However, the Nutmeg State is “dead last” in the percentage of students who participate in the free breakfast program, several speakers noted.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” said Madeleine Diker of the School Nutrition Association of Connecticut. “However, informal surveys indicate that 60 to 75 percent of middle school students are not eating breakfast at home. And upwards of 85 percent of high school students do not eat breakfast. And this is regardless of the economic situation at home.” She said one can make up the calories, but not the nutrients, of a missed breakfast.

DeLauro spoke at the end of the session. She reminded her audience that President Truman signed the legislation creating the school lunch program back in 1946 as an issue of national security, responding to high levels of malnutrition among U.S. troops drafted to fight in World War II.

“It’s still about national security, whether it’s 1946 or 2009,” she said to applause. “It’s so refreshing to be in a room where no one talks about ‘food insecurity’ but you talk about hunger.”

She said it’s one thing for her to talk about nutrition programs, but when economists touted them as one of the three key ways to stimulate the economy, members of Congress took notice. She enumerated: “One was extending unemployment benefits; two was refundable tax credits, and three was nutrition and food programs and food stamps.” The allocation for food stamps in the stimulus package increased from $8 billion to $20 billion. She thanked everyone for their suggestions, saying they were invaluable in giving her ammunition in the reauthorization fight ahead. “And though we have an administration that we are proud of, and fond of, my friends: trust but verify. Make sure they are doing what it is we want them to do.”

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Posted by: Rachel | June 16, 2009 10:18 AM

I'm not sure about New Haven, but I've learned that in many CT communities the kids who come to schools on buses arrive after the free breakfast is served.

Posted by: lance | June 16, 2009 10:37 AM

they shouldn't call it the free lunch program, they should call it the lunch paid for by someone else program.

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 16, 2009 4:33 PM

Ok Lance I so totally get a kick out of most of your posts but come on. These are kids. Through no fault of there own they are not getting fed. Weather the parents are not using there food stamps the right way or the family is struggling with out state assistance free lunch and breakfast is just THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Not one kid wants to stand in that line with a free lunch card (not cool) but they do for the simple fact they are hungry.

Posted by: Wicked Lester | June 17, 2009 12:58 PM

I like Rosa's John Cena imitation in that pic.

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