By The Gazette Editorial Board
No loving parent or caring adult wants to see a child go hungry, without enough healthy food needed for proper physical and mental development. Sadly, it happens far too often on our planet, especially in Third World countries. But how often are children undernourished here in America, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?
Apparently, more often than you might suspect. Representatives of United Way of East Central Iowa and the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program told us that about 1 in 4 Cedar Rapids kids in grades K-6 are “food insecure” — that is, they miss a meal at least once every five days and aren’t getting enough healthy food overall. These organizations also ask: If the only meals children eat each day are at school, what do these children do when there is no school?” such as on weekends.
It’s a “quiet crisis, and it shouldn’t be,” Karla Goettel of United Way told us Tuesday.
We agree that the situation should get our community’s attention.
As one local response to what government and non-profits report as a national problem that has spiked since the 2008 recession (and here, post-2008 flood), United Way and HACAP are launching a fund drive to enable expansion of HACAP’s Operation Back Pack program — from serving six elementary schools to all 21 in Cedar Rapids. They estimate a need of $105,000 to do that.
So far, the program has been sponsored by the HACAP Food Reservoir and Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity network. But food banks are hard-pressed to meet general demands these days, and can’t supply the amount of healthy food items that an expanded Back Pack program targets for kids.
For about $5.50 per child per week, Back Pack provides at least a dozen items sent home for the students — nutritious, non-perishable, yet kid-friendly and easily used foods. School nurses and teachers identify students they believe aren’t getting enough to eat and also are eligible, based on family income, for the free or reduced-price lunches provided at school. Parents are contacted for permission. Educational materials on nutrition and recipes are included with the food packs. Schools seek community partner groups who provide volunteers for the packing and distribution work.
In HACAP’s seven-county services area, it’s estimated that there are more than 16,000 food-insecure children, or 1 in every 6. The Back Pack program expansion for now will focus on Cedar Rapids. Organizers hope to eventually come under the United Way umbrella or create an endowment to sustain the program as long as it’s needed. They acknowledge there likely are older children also at risk but “we need to take care of the little ones first” because of their critical development needs, Amanda Pieper of HACAP told us.
Surely it would be better if all parents were able to adequately provide for their children’s nutritional needs. That’s about as basic as it gets. But until we’re much closer to that day, the Back Pack program deserves our community’s attention and support.
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Help feed kids
n Operation Back Pack: Inquire at your school or at HACAP, 1515 Hawkeye Drive, Hiawatha, IA 52233; (319) 393-7811, or www.hacap.org.
n More on hunger in America: http://feedingamerica.org/