New statistics from the national Feeding America network of Second Harvest food banks show 30.8 percent, or nearly one-third, of children in Northeast Tennessee do not have enough food to eat due to limited family income and lack of access to resources.
Rhonda Chafin, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee executive director, said the child hunger statistics are a new component of Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap study used to determine the scope of need for food and identify areas with gaps in resources where food banks can provide more assistance.
The recently released report shows 31,890 children in Washington, Sullivan, Carter, Unicoi, Johnson, Greene, Hawkins and Hancock counties are “food insecure, or unable to consistently access adequate amounts of nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.”
Chafin said the food bank is working to fill gaps in local food resources for children through its Food for Kids backpack program conducted at schools across the region, through its Kids’s Cafe after school and summer feeding programs at area youth service agencies, and through a new initiative to establish pantries inside schools to provide food boxes to students’ families.
The Food for Kids program, which provides take-home packages of kid-friendly entrées and snacks to students in need every other weekend throughout the school year, has increased by 30 percent every year for the past three years, Chafin said. This school year, the program will include 4,125 students at 130 schools, up from 3,700 students during the school year that ended in May. “When you compare those 4,000 (children) to the 31,890 the study identifies, you really see the need,” she said.
Students included in the Food for Kids program are identified by teachers and school counselors who are asked to refer only students who they know are chronically hungry and have little to no food to eat at home. Chafin said the new school pantry initiative is being implemented, in part, to address a problem schools experience with older students who often refuse the take-home food packages to prevent their peers from knowing they are in need.
Because of the new child hunger statistics and the need for more local food resources for children, Feeding America will be supplementing the regional food bank’s staff with a Child Hunger Corps member who will spend the next two years working to implement and expand programs that provide food to children after school, on weekends and during the summer recess.
Second Harvest’s Kids Cafe program is providing daily after school food assistance to 1,500 children at 10 youth service agencies. This summer the Kids Cafe program provided food to 658 children at the 10 sites.
A $93 donation to Second Harvest earmarked for “Food For Kids” will provide one student in need of food with a take-home food package every other weekend throughout the school year. Donations may be made online at www.netfoodbank.org or by mail to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, 127 Dillon Court, Gray, TN 37615.
For more information about the food bank’s programs for children, visit www.netfoodbank.org or call Second Harvest at 477-4053.