According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, more than 31 million children across the United States receive free or reduced price lunches each day.
There are numerous organizations across the nation that work either directly or indirectly to end the dangers of childhood hunger; in Blacksburg there's Micah’s Backpack Program.
The Montgomery County Public School System served 9,771 students from 2011 to 2012, according to the Virginia Department of Education’s School Nutrition Program.
Of those 9,771 total students, 3,023 were eligible for free lunches and 708 for reduced lunches. That means 3,731 students, or 38.18 percent of the total, were eligible for free or reduced lunches.
Public schools, non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions all operate with the USDA’s National School Lunch Program.
During the 2011 fiscal year alone, more than $11.1 billion dollars were spent to provide these lunches and after-school snacks over the country.
But providing a nutritious and balanced meal during the school day is only alleviating part of the childhood hunger problem. There are still the weekends and those summer months children spend out of school — and consequently — without free or reduced lunches.
The USDA runs a Summer Food Service Program, but in 2010, it reported only 2.3 million children participating, compared to the 20.6 million in the regular NSLP that year.
Similarly, the philanthropic organization Feeding America reported only 14 percent of client households with children under the age of 18 participated in a summer meals program, in contrast to the 62 percent who were recipients of the NSLP.
That’s a significant gap, especially when one takes into account the overwhelming scientific evidence confirming what seems to be obvious: childhood hunger has severe and lasting consequences.
According a study from Feeding America, “Hungry children do more poorly in school and have lower academic achievement because they are not well prepared for school and cannot concentrate.”
When faced with dire-sounding statistics, one’s first reaction might be to insist that it happens in other places, but never here where they live personally.
To bring it closer to home, the percentages in Blacksburg ranged from a low of 14 percent for free and 3 percent for reduced eligibility at Harding Avenue Elementary. This varied from Price’s Fork Elementary with a high of 32 percent for free and 11 percent reduced eligibility.
People who live in the area may keep this in mind when they see children on the street in downtown Blacksburg, in the Kroger on Main Street, and as you ride the bus down Price’s Fork. Any of them could be living with hunger.
Micah’s Backpack Program is working to make those statistics a thing of the past.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, there is a prophet named Micah. Jennie Hodge, the director of Micah’s Backpack, says that Micah 6:8 provides what she calls the group’s guiding principle: act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.
It was with this sentiment that a small group met five years ago at the behest of John Wertz, the pastor at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Blacksburg.