OPINION

Food Insecurity in Summer

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Sara Wilson, UWSC Marketing Director

Throughout the 2014 LIVE UNITED Campaign, we can reflect on all of the many ways our community comes together to advance the common good. United Way of Story County (UWSC) focuses on education, income and health – the building blocks for a good quality of life. We know we can’t do it alone, so we recruit people and organizations who bring passion, expertise and resources to get things done. During the campaign, this column is highlighting problems in our community – one each in education, income and health – and we’re following each “problem” column with subsequent columns describing different solutions. We first highlighted grade-level reading proficiency in education. Next, we’ll highlight an issue in the area of income.

Food insecurity is real in our community, and there are many ways we can talk about the topic of hunger, which affects different groups of people in Story County throughout the year. However, for the next series of columns, we’ll focus on food insecurity for families in the summer.

About 13 percent, or 12,000 people, in Story County report to be food insecure. Of the 12,000 individuals, more than 2,500 are children. The effect of hunger is more than being unable to meet basic nutritional needs. We know one of the basic needs of children to succeed in their academic career is to not be hungry. Research has found that food insecurity impairs academic development of young school-age children, showing that the reading and mathematical skills of food insecure children entering kindergarten developed significantly more slowly than other children. Research has also shown that food insecurity was associated with grade repetition, absenteeism, tardiness, anxiety, aggression, poor mathematics scores, psychosocial dysfunction and difficulty with social interaction among six- to 12-year-old children.

One in four children in Story County is eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch at school, and the BackPack Program™ has helped cover weekend food in many cases, but what about summer? Kids are home without access to healthy, affordable meals. The food assistance program covers about $1.30 per meal, but the average cost per meal in Story County is $2.35. Story County has 16 food pantries, but the usage rate is increasing month after month, and in some cases, donations are down. Until recent years, there was only one summer feeding program in Story County with an average attendance of 100 and growing.

Knowing hunger is prevalent in our community, UWSC and other partners are working to decrease food insecurity. Specifically, to support families in summer, UWSC has created an annual food drive in May, leads the execution of new summer programs in Ames and Nevada and runs a food drive in conjunction with Monsanto and the Farm Progress Show every other year. These efforts will be highlighted in the next three columns.

The momentum is building, and we’re excited to share how we’re moving the needle in this area. We invite you to be a part of the change. You can give, you can advocate and you can volunteer. That’s what it means to LIVE UNITED.