It should be a story that tears at the hearts of all parents, including most especially those who could anticipate the canceling of school in many parts of North Carolina with a trip to the grocery store. There, they loaded up with provisions both nutritious and fun, figuring their kids would be playing with vigor in the snow and working up big appetites.
But this story, reported in the Sunday News & Observer, was different. It was about a crisis that hits the considerable numbers of children in this region and elsewhere in the state who rely on school not just for learning but for basic nutrition in the form of free and reduced-price lunches.
In seven counties in the Wake region, some 116,000 K-12 students, or 43 percent of the student population, applied for the assistance program for lunches for the 2012 school year. One word unifies them: poor. And when school is out unexpectedly, there is another word: hungry.
Missing the only meal
Yes, some of those in need have parents who can find help from their churches, and certainlycommunity groups do what they can. But too many kids out of school because of weather simply go hungry because their school meals may be their only meals of the day.
Because parents on extremely tight budgets are forced to figure those school meals into their planning, a storm sets them back, say social workers. Planned suppers become lunches. Meals figured for weekends, and they’re hardly elaborate meals, are eaten during the week.
“I worry very much about kids not getting anything to eat over the snow break. Most hopefully are able to scrounge out something for themselves,” said Kyle Abrams, who manages the child and hunger programs for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. “It’s tough when the schools aren’t running.” The Food Shuttle is the organization that runs the BackPack Buddies program that provides for weekend food for children in the region.
Volunteers know where the needs are, and families in need know churches willing to help and county social services offices that can send them to the right place.
Parents whose children are hungry know they must find help and that their need is real.
Storms reveal need
But those who believe, as some do, that there are no hungry children in Wake County or elsewhere, who think government is providing a featherbed of services for those in need, are wrong. The crises that arise because of storms, the crises that empty the stomachs of young people who don’t know why, should serve to raise awareness, and, one would hope, activate a generous spirit, in all.
There was another organization raising awareness from a central location in North Carolina, and that was the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But in a cruel irony, as this storm was hitting the poor much harder than others, the Republican-controlledUNC system Board of Governors did away with the poverty center.
It was a political move directed at the center’s head, UNC-CH law Professor Gene Nichol. He has been outspoken about the need to do something about the sobering fact that a quarter of North Carolina’s children – nearly 600,000 – live in poverty. GOP leaders say they’veorchestrated aneconomic rebirth by cutting unemployment benefits and rejecting expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor and disabled, but these moves will increase poverty North Carolina.
Nichol, who has visited North Carolina’s pockets of poverty many times and in many places, knows better than to be surprised by a story of hungry children at home during a snow storm. He knows for many families it’s much worse than a few days of hunger, which is bad enough and inexcusable.
Let us hope that no more snow days afflict us. And that no more snow days keep 5-year-old kindergartners, and 17-year-old seniors, hungry.