September 25

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How To Explain (and Fight!) Child Hunger in the US

By Erik Talkin

September 25, 2020

child health, child hunger, community, doing good, giving back

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Kids Can L.E.A.P Into Action To Fight Child Hunger In The US

There are hungry kids all around us. They are food insecure.


Before Covid-19 struck, one in seven kids were facing something called Food Insecurity (when a family doesn’t always have enough healthy food for the whole month) but now, it is more like one in six. Across our land, families who never needed help before are turning to pantries and food banks to secure enough food to eat.


1 in 6 kids across America - including your community - does not have enough to eat.

This is a huge challenge for families and very stressful for kids.

But the good news is you can help your children’s classmates, your neighbors - and maybe even your friends. 

What Is Food Insecurity?

This is not a problem in another place - food insecurity is in every community. 

  • Food insecurity means not having enough healthy food for the month
  • 1 in 6 kids are facing child hunger in the US right now
  • The stigma attached to hunger means many kids try to hide their hunger - and that needs to change

I’m Erik, And I Run A Food Bank

My day job is running the food bank in Santa Barbara County. We’re a large organization that brings in millions of pounds of food each year and stores it in large warehouses. We then distribute it through a network of 300 local member nonprofit organizations. 

Every day, I see people are hurting, especially in the present pandemic. But I also see how we ensure people get the help they need.

When I’m not working at the food bank, I am a children’s writer, and I wanted to write about food insecurity from a child’s perspective.

So I wrote a book, “Lulu and the Hunger Monster,” based on my experiences over the years of working with food insecure families with young children.

How Kids Can Take Action Against Hunger Right Now

Child hunger in the US is a subject that can feel overwhelming, but there are a lot of things that all kids can do to help themselves or classmates and friends who may be hungry.

But to do so, they need to take a L.E.A.P.

L.E.A.P.  is:

  • Learn 
  • Empathize
  • Act
  • Persist 

This is the acronym to remind us what kids can do to take action against hunger. 

In this post, I want to dig a little deeper in terms of how children and their teachers and parents can make the most of using L.E.A.P. to fight child hunger and make a difference at the local, community-wide level. 

Why Can't Food Insecure Families Just Get Help?

Every day, I see how much stigma and embarrassment are key issues in preventing kids from getting help for their child hunger in the US. 

I hope that Lulu will help kids learn to get over their fears and ask for help.

In the book, Lulu is a brave girl who is trying to help herself and her mom face a monster called hunger.

how to fight child hunger in the us
fight child hunger in the US feeding america infographic

L.E.A.P Into Action In 4 Steps

Learn

Hunger is often an ‘invisible problem,’ but there is so much information available out there about the challenging truths around the many Americans who are at risk of going to bed hungry.

Feeding America and No Kid Hungry are national organizations with helpful websites which focus on issues and stories related to childhood hunger. 

The stories at the websites above that talk about kids’ hunger are so important, because statistics mean nothing to children - they need to be able to relate to hunger in a personal way. 

This is a tough topic, but once they understand childhood hunger is real and widespread, change can happen. They can make it happen. 

Empathize

This is really the crux of the matter. Food insecure kids need understanding almost as much as they need food. 

Hunger is a socially complex issue. Unlike classic medical conditions, childhood food insecurity carries a significant stigma. And kids that are food secure can play a part in breaking down the barrier of silence around hunger. 

When food secure kids realize that food insecure kids are embarrassed about their hunger, on top of the physical and emotional problems of hunger, that’s when change can happen. The awareness and empathy that understanding brings can lead to powerful social and emotional learning. 

How To Explain Empathy and Fight Food Insecurity

Have your practice empathy. 

Ask your child to imagine times when they had a problem and someone helped them. Did it make they feel awkward and ‘not enough?’ 

Or kids can also write little scenes imagining what problems they would have if they were hungry. 

You can also introduce the concept of being ‘hangry’ (hunger leading to impatience and anger) and use understanding of those feelings to begin the groundwork for empathizing with someone who may have no choice but to be hangry.

Remember: One kid in six or seven is hungry in America. Your child can look around the classroom or playground and know that for every seven kids, at least one is likely hungry.

Act

This is the meat in the sandwich. The chance for children to help others. 

It might be their own friends or neighbors, where they share food in a neutral way that would not embarrass the other person. 

Empowering kids to advocate for themselves by talking to a teacher or counselor can also enable a family to get help that is out there that they might not be aware of.

Once you’re helping the people you know, you can begin to cast a wider net to help everyone in your town. 

A Few Community Action Ideas:

  • A class can organize a food drive to collect healthy food to give to local food bank.
  • A garden can be started at home or at school to grow more healthy food for people.
  • Have your family or business donate enough food to feed a few families for a week. Ask your local food pantry for a list of needed items.
  • Raise money to purchase food. Sell pre-made hot chocolate mix, or come up with your own socially-distant fundraising activity. 
  • Already have a garden or access to fresh food? Organize regular deliveries to your local food pantry!
  • Volunteer at a food pantry. Even in the age of COVID-19, families are still volunteering at food pantries. These organizations may now need help more urgently than ever, not only because of increased food insecurity due to the financial impact of the virus, but also because their regular volunteers are often over 60 and therefore especially vulnerable to the effects of the virus.

When students volunteer or give back - in any of these ways - with their parents and caregivers, it helps broaden their awareness beyond the classroom and offers a chance for valuable family engagement. 

Kids get to see the results of their action - and that makes all the difference. 

Persist

Persist, don’t procrastinate.

Persistence is the only thing that will eradicate the underlying causes of food insecurity at the community level in the U.S.A. 

We all want our children to be thoughtful and caring members of society, but we don’t need to wait for them to grow up. There are lots of things kids can do now. I’m always inspired by this quote from Anne Frank, a girl who had a lot to contend with, but still found the strength to issue this rallying cry:

“Hunger is not a problem. It is an obscenity. How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” - Anne Frank

L.E.A.P. To Fight Food Insecurity

L.E.A.P

  • Learn that food insecurity exists all around you - from classrooms to communities. One in at least seven kids may not have enough food to eat this month. And your child can help. Start at Feeding America or No Kid Hungry, or grab a copy of my book here.
  • Empathize with food-insecure children. Ask your child if someone’s ever helped them and how did it make them feel? Or have your child draw or talk about what it might feel like to not have enough food to eat.
  • Act to put an end to food insecurity. Help a hungry family by providing food in a low-key and non-embarrassing way, volunteer, or raise money to donate to a local non-profit fighting hunger.
  • Persist, and continue the conversation and action against hunger. Gift your child with the knowledge, empathy, and tools to continue making a difference, whether that’s regularly dropping meals off to a hungry family, donating to an organization that helps fight child hunger, or volunteering at a local food pantry (where they desperately need you, by the way).

Resources To Start Fighting Child Hunger In The US With Your Child

Here's A Quick Video On How Mia Fights Child Hunger In The US

...And How Big Food Banks Work

L.E.A.P. And Make A Difference

You can also find out more about Lulu and the Hunger Monster at: https://hunger-monster.com

Empower your child to make a difference today. Together, your family can help change the world, one hungry child at a time. 

Calling All Teachers!


There’s a free leader guide for this discussion, and it’s based on my book, Lulu and the Hunger Monster, which you can get here

About the author 

Erik Talkin

Erik Talkin is a writer and filmmaker and has served as a principal in two production companies. His short film The Gallery, starring Helena Bonham Carter, was selected for the London Film Festival. He has won an International Television Association Award for writing and directing educational drama, and his theatrical work has been produced on the London Fringe. Erik serves as CEO of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and lives with his family in Santa Barbara, California. Find out more about Erik or his latest book, Lulu and the Hunger Monster.

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