As way too many of us parents complain about our children wasting their food, it is heartbreaking and shameful to think that for many kids in the U.S. — 14.5 million under the age of 18 — chronic hunger is a way of life.
Katherine Gibson Howton, a high school teacher at a small school in Oregon, has personally witnessed the struggle of adolescent hunger. Many of her students come to class hungry and, understandably, unhappy and irritable because of it. The sad truth is that hunger can have physical and psychological effects on young people that make learning substantially difficult. So Ms. Howton recently turned to Facebook to raise some awareness.
“We are your children’s teachers,” she began her post. “We know that we may have more time with your child than you do. We don’t want them to be hungry, and not just because a hungry child can’t learn but because we care about them. Hungry feels scary.”
Howton proceeded to tell Scary Mommy that a fifth of the students at her school have housing insecurity; many students also qualify for free lunch. “We know that some of our students have no food in the house by the end of the month,” she said.
Her post really hit home for one man, who replied: “We really depended on the school lunches. It was usually many hours before we had food again. If a kind-hearted teacher had something extra, that was a gift. The thought that free school lunch programs would be heartlessly cut… really, I can barely speak of it.”
When one of Howton’s students complained of a headache, she discovered the student hadn’t eaten all day — and, luckily, she was prepared.
Howton reveals that almost all the other teachers at her school — even administrators and substitutes — have cabinets similar to hers, which she shares with another teacher. Prior to her post going viral, she and her colleagues didn’t really discuss the hunger issues pervading the school. “If we educators aren’t talking about it, how could parents possible know?” she said.
Thankfully, they now openly discuss the problem and understand how keeping food on-hand can benefit a child’s education (not to mention their general well-being); however, with the president’s recent budget proposal, funding for after-school programs, which help feed kids from low-income families, are on the chopping block.
Howton says she’s prepared to continue providing students with food, even if the government is not.
“They’re cutting the federal safety net, and we’re providing this invisible safety net that no one even knows about,” she said.
To see what you can do to help hungry children, go to Feeding America.