End of school means days of hunger for some local kids

Study: Hunger will affect more than 400,000

 
 
Posted6/6/2012 5:30 AM
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"No more pencils, no more books" is part of the familiar school's-out-for-summer chant. But when classrooms close for the summer, so do school cafeterias and their free and reduced lunch and breakfast programs. For thousands of area children, that means a harsh summer lesson about hunger and improper nutrition.

A study by Feeding America, a hunger relief charity, shows there are more than 400,000 children in Cook and the collar counties who spend at least some time hungry or not receiving proper nutrition. One in five children in the 13 northern Illinois counties face hunger on a regular basis. Northern Illinois Food Bank officials say that problem becomes more acute in the summer months when school food is not a guaranteed part of a child's day.

"It's a little surprising," said Pete Schaefer, president and CEO of the food bank. "Before I became involved, I thought maybe wintertime was the bad time, when it's cold and dark. But a lot of these kids are dependent on these school lunch programs. So when they are out of school, they are out of luck."

The food bank and the pantries it partners with will try to fill that gap by administering the USDA's Summer Food Service Program. The program provides breakfasts, lunches and healthy snacks to children from low-income families. That effort is in addition to the food bank's efforts to feed about 30,000 children each week through 600 feeding programs in the area.

"I have to say I'm not proud of what we're doing," Schaefer said. "We're feeding a lot of people, but we're not even halfway there to fulfilling the need."

Unemployment is part of the problem, he added. But underemployment is a factor not often considered. Statistics show 32 percent of the food-insecure households earn $40,793 or less for a family of four. Schaefer said healthy eating is often one of the first items cuts from a household's budget in that situation.

"You have a car payment, gas payment, utility bills, doctor bills -- and when that money is gone, what's left is what you have for food," Schaefer said. "When I go to the store, healthy foods are in the expensive section. If you've only got $10 to stretch for the whole family for a meal, you can't get those vegetables and healthy proteins."

Food bank officials hope more fortunate local residents can step up their donations and volunteer hours to address the added pressure of feeding children this summer.

To help, or to find your nearest summer meal site, call (630) 443-6910 or visit solvehungertoday.org.

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