How Do We Help Hungry Families?

By United Way of King County, on March 20, 2014 | In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Guest blogger Marie Eberlein, United Way VISTA, shares the wide reaching scope of how hunger affects so many in our community.

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a summer meals site with my church.  The Summer Food Service Program is a federally-funded effort to fill in the gaps—specifically, to feed kids who receive free and reduced price lunch during the school year, but don’t have that option during the summer.  It provides meals for free to kids in high-risk neighborhoods, where more than 50% are eligible for free or reduced price meals.

The thing that strikes me, looking back on that experience, is how normal and average the kids getting meals at that site were.  When I think about hunger, my mental image is of emaciated children in developing nations.  In the U.S., hunger is a hidden problem.  But it’s a problem the family up the street may struggle with.  Maybe not every day; many families make just enough to scrape by.  But if the car breaks down, or someone gets sick, or the week is particularly cold, those families are forced to make difficult choices.  And sometimes the only choice is to not buy food.

So how do we help these families?  We have some effective measures in place now, like Basic Food and the summer meals program.  Basic Food (food stamps) helps more than one million individuals in Washington State, along with generating significant economic activity and improving long-term health outcomes.  But cuts in the recent Farm Bill reduced the amount Basic Food recipients receive to $6.30 per day—at the most.

Summer meals programs leverage federal dollars to feed kids, and can be an effective way to bring nutritious meals to the families who need them most.  But of more than 98,000 kids who are eligible for free and reduced price lunch in King County, less than a fifth are getting these free meals during the summer.  For many kids, the problem is that no one in the family knows the summer meals sites exist, or how to find them, but for others, transportation and lack of trust can prevent families from using this resource.

United Way of King County is working to change that as part of our One Million Meals Campaign.  We’re trying to equip organizations to serve one million meals to hungry kids over the course of two summers, beginning last year.  We’ve seen an increase in the number of kids we can feed, but we still struggle to overcome those issues: knowledge, accessibility, and trust.

We want your help solving those problems.  As part of our partnership with the King County Library System, we’ll soon be starting an online community discussion about ways we can increase the reach of summer meals, and we want to hear your input.  For now, why not check out the page and participate in the conversation about hunger and more general ways we can address it?  And in a month, return to the page and let us know your thoughts on how we can improve summer meals and make sure no kid is going hungry in King County.


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