January 25, 2013
Something as simple as a wholesome breakfast can make a world of difference when it comes to a child's education.
"When kids are in school, they get that consistent lunch every day. But we learned that a lot of kids in Texas were not getting breakfast," said Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative (THI), housed in Baylor's School of Social Work.
"Kids were missing breakfast on a daily basis. This was leading to low test scores, discipline problems, increased trips to the nurse, and it was having a negative effect on school attendance. Kids who don't eat can't learn at their highest capacity."
According to THI statistics, 20 percent of Texans (4.2 million people) are food insecure. This means that these people experienced hunger outright or altered their food consumption to irregular eating patterns in order to avoid hunger, said Everett. This number includes more than 1.8 million Texas children who do not have regular access to food.
THI's mission is to develop and implement strategies to end hunger. One step is making sure children get a breakfast at school.
Everett explained that schools are eligible to receive federal reimbursement for breakfasts served to children through the School Breakfast Program. But, he said, even in schools that do serve a traditional breakfast to students, participation is often low. This low participation is often due to the "poor kid" stigma associated with receiving the free breakfast.
As a result, THI is working with 10 school districts throughout the state, including 60 schools in the Dallas area, to organize alternative delivery methods.
"We're working to help them serve breakfast in a different location," Everett said. "The outcome is it reduces the stigma that a lot of kids are embarrassed about - being the 'poor kid.'"
Examples of alternative delivery methods are "Grab and Go Breakfast," "Breakfast after First Period" and "Breakfast in the Classroom." The latter includes breakfast being served to the students during the first few minutes of their first class. Everybody eats. No stigma.
Everett said these alternative
methods are working. "Simply by serving breakfast in the classroom, we'll
increase breakfast participation by
15 million meals. That's a huge win for us, for public education and education in general in Texas. Breakfast directly impacts student performance in school."
Breakfast is one area where the THI is making strides. But the battle to end child hunger in Texas is far from over.
Making sure kids eat at school is one thing, but what happens when they go home and the cupboards are bare?
"We see kids missing meals after school, on the weekends and during the summer," Everett said.
To combat that, the THI is working with the national No Kid Hungry-Share Our Strength program to develop ways to provide kids with meals during the summer.
The No Kid Hungry network is comprised of private citizens, government officials, nonprofit organizations, business leaders and others providing innovative hunger solutions in their communities.
THI has worked to connect churches and schools to distribute meals, and Everett says he is seeing positive results.
"We served more than a million meals more in 2010 than the summer before by getting different sectors to work together," Everett said. "We don't operate under any illusion that the church can end poverty. But churches are an integral part to doing this. It's been awesome to see churches step up and serve these kids. We've got a long, long way to go in the summer."
THI is always looking for more churches and nonprofit agencies to partner with to fight the battle to end hunger. For more information, or to find out how to get involved, visit the THI website: www.baylor.edu/texashunger.