Food Assistance Programs Are A Hand Up, Not A Hand Out

Imagine how you felt the last time you experienced hunger pains.
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Coauthored by Clancy Cash Harrison MS, RDN, FAND is a Pediatric Dietitian, Author of Feeding Baby, TEDx Speaker, and Food Justice Advocate.

Everyone desires a nation with prosperous jobs, economic growth, and safe environments. However, a great nation cannot occur until we demolish childhood food insecurity, a handicap our nation has enabled over the years. Unfortunately, food insecurity is a hidden epidemic and is more of a common occurrence than many people realize.

With over 40 million people suffering from food insecurity in the United States, the face of hunger is fluid. At a moment’s notice anyone at anytime can find themselves in a life-changing situation such as job loss, reduced wages, a disability diagnosis, divorce, or natural disaster. It often takes one crisis to push a family over the edge; an injury that makes it impossible to work, a death in the family, a car breaking down, or even the birth of a baby. All of these can be traumatic economic events for a family with little or no savings.

Imagine how you felt the last time you experienced hunger pains. Did you experience headaches or did you become aggravated, impatient, and intolerable? Now imagine having an empty refrigerator and zero money to buy food for the rest of the month. This is food insecurity.

Food insecurity can also occur when a person cannot afford to buy a variety of foods with high nutritional quality. For example, a family experiencing food insecurity may rely on instant noodles or prepared pancake mix to feed their families breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 13.1 million children do not have access to nourishing foods necessary for a quality education. Many of these children go to school with the feelings of hunger, debilitating emotions, and a foggy mental state. Food insecure children find it difficult to concentrate in school and often have behavior problems linked to mental health issues such as hyperactivity.

Food is a basic need along with oxygen and water for survival. Nourishing food is vital for establishing a child’s health, academic achievement, and their economic contribution to society. If a child is chronically hungry in school, they are more likely to do substandard work. The ability to concentrate in school starts with access to nourishing food.

We know a child’s readiness for kindergarten is built on the experiences and development in the first three years of life. Just like the success of first grade is built on the experiences of kindergarten. The foundation for a quality education is set in early life and continues to build upward into adulthood. If the foundation is weak, our nation’s economy is profoundly impacted.

We can mend our nation’s childhood hunger crisis by investing in the existing food assistance programs such as SNAP (food stamps), Women Infant Children Program (WIC) and the National School Feeding Programs. Unfortunately, many people who qualify for food assistance programs do not receive the support they need because of the stigma associated with poverty and hunger. As a result, many people who need food assistance are too ashamed to ask for help having a negative impact on the health of our next generation.

If we are serious about improving our nation’s economy, we must effectively combat food insecurity in our communities by shifting the way we think and talk about food assistance programs. Food assistance programs should be seen as a hand up, not a hand out. Our children and nation depend on all of us to be the voice in the fight against childhood hunger.

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