Food Insecurity: We can do better for our kids

Poverty statistics are numbers thrown out to help define the problems facing our kids. We know that 1 in 6 Iowa children lives in poverty, but do we know what poverty actually looks like? Do we know what it feels like to be hungry? One result of poverty is too many children living in food insecure homes.

Currently, one Iowan in eight is identified as food insecure, meaning they do not have an adequate supply of nutritious and safe food. Unfortunately, the number is even higher for our kids, with 19% of Iowa children facing hunger.

Research shows that children struggling to combat hunger have poor outcomes. Proper nutrition is critical during the early years when brain development occurs. For school-age children, hunger can correlate to poor health, educational outcomes, and mental health diagnoses.

Several programs are available to help children facing hunger in our communities. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps, supplements a family’s monthly food expenses. According to monthly statistical reports from the Iowa Department of Human Services, the number of households receiving SNAP assistance has increased 56% since 2008, the start of the Great Recession.

The Free and Reduced Lunch Program can help school-aged children meet their nutritional needs. Eligibility for the program extends to families earning up to 185% of the Federal Poverty Level. During the 2013-14 school year, 41% of Iowa’s school-aged children qualified for the program.  CLICK HEREto access an interactive tool and search for your local school.

This week, former Iowa Governor and Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, announced the release of $1.3 million in grants to help reduce childhood hunger and improve access to federal nutrition assistance in 17 rural communities across the country. While no grantees were from Iowa, we could monitor grantee success as potential lessons learned.

There are numerous creative programs across Iowa tackling the issues facing children living in food insecure homes. As you think about your own community, identify the programs to help combat childhood hunger–such as local food pantries, a Back Pack Programs, or summer programs.