Most of us push away from the table three times a day full and satisfied. While we might debate whether some food we consume is good for us, the point is most of us do not go hungry.
So the recent report about the number of kids who are hungry in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties is appalling. More than 14,000 Lorain County and nearly 58,000 Cuyahoga County kids experience hunger at some time throughout the year, according to a report from No Kid Hungry. The program is associated with Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit focused on reducing hunger and poverty in the United States and internationally.
America wastes tons of food every year. Why is any kid hungry?
I think we understand the dilemma faced by a parent who loses a spouse or partner through death or divorce or who loses a job.
It's more complicated to understand how a couple who works ends up needing help. Let's say a mom and dad with two school-age kids each earn $12/hour at their full-time jobs. Their combined annual pre-tax income is $49,920.
That makes them ineligible for many government programs. For example, SNAP assistance has a maximum income for a family of four of $32,630. To qualify for Medicaid, it's $33,383 or for assistance with utility bills, $43,925.
According to Second Harvest of North Central Ohio, which serves Lorain County, 30% of children are likely ineligible for federal nutrition assistance under current program requirements.
That family of four will see 15% or so of their earnings taken for taxes and Social Security retirement. They may see an additional amount deducted for their portion of an employer-provided health care plan, assuming it exists.
They need reliable transportation to and from work and a safe place for their kids after school.
Add rent, utilities, doctors, medicine, clothes, shoes, school supplies, household expenses.
What's left for food?
Last month the U.S. Department of Agriculture's monthly report on the cost of food for a family of four — two parents under age 50 and two kids between 6 and 11 — is approximately $650 a month. Many believe the amount should be increased, particularly if a family wants to forgo less expensive starches like rice, bread and potatoes for fresh fruits, vegetables or meat.
When the money runs out before the end of the month, meals shrink. Some skip a meal altogether. None of that bodes well. Data is clear. If kids are hungry, they are less able to concentrate and learn. They don't do as well on tests. If they fall behind, there is a higher tendency for them to drop out and the cycle perpetuates.
My fear is that many readers will say to themselves, "What about all those food banks and school lunch programs and churches that offer a free meal every month?" Are there so many food drives and opportunities to volunteer or donate that we are becoming desensitized to the fact that, with all that is being done, we still have great unmet need?
Those needs exist in every one of our communities.
Some question whether those who participate in government or nonprofit food programs are really needy, or just lazy. Those suspicions are magnified by stories of abuses. Punish the abusers. But don't punish kids who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in tough circumstances.