Poverty and hunger aren’t things we like to think about every day. I, and I imagine most other folks, prefer to think poverty and hunger are third world issues. Or big city issues. Or, at the very least, they don’t happen in my “back yard.”
The issue of poverty and hunger came up recently at a candidate forum I attended. An audience member asked school board candidates if they were aware of what our local school district does to help poor kids get enough to eat on the weekends.
Some of us knew a local philanthropic club provides “backpacks” of nutritious food items each Friday to kids the school district knows probably won’t get a decent meal over the weekend. I also pointed out that the federal government pays for several of our schools to cook and serve free breakfast and lunch each weekday during the summer.
Several audience members approached me after the forum. They were shocked that here in Manhattan, Kansas, in the heart of the nation’s breadbasket, families depend on school meals to feed their children.
You see, poverty and hunger are strangely hidden in Manhattan. We don’t have people panhandling on corners or sleeping in alleys. So we tend to think we don’t have a problem.
But I’ve had teachers tell me about kids who race into school on Monday mornings, famished, to devour the school breakfast.
Some of our schools have a high enough poverty rate that the entire school gets federal money to serve every student free breakfast and lunch. One principal told me when it was announced that her school qualified for this program, a parent came to her in tears. “You have no idea what this will mean to our family,” the mom said.
What’s disturbing is the vast majority of these families are working families. They’re not “welfare cheats” or parasites. They’re struggling with the ramifications of the recession, the war, or catastrophic illness.
I was pleased when several of the folks at that candidate forum said they were going to bring the weekend food backpack issue to the attention of their pastor or their civic club. Their eyes had been opened to a problem they didn’t know existed.
Right in their own back yards.