GAINESVILLE, Ga. — More than 27 percent of Georgia children don’t know where their next meal is coming from, according to the Georgia Food Bank Association.
That’s a number the association and local groups are determined to bring down.
“We know that there’s a huge percentage of our children who are relying on meals that they get at school. The teachers’ testimony is the greatest, where they can say childhood hunger is real,” said Kay Blackstock, the director of Georgia Mountain Food Bank. “This is an effort to fill in the gap.”
The association is beginning its No Kid Hungry campaign with a regional information session to build awareness about food insecurity and the correlations between nutrition and health.
No Kid Hungry is a partnership with the national Share Our Strength nonprofit. It’s being done in 14 states.
“Share Our Strength, they focus on childhood hunger. I really admire the work they do,” Blackstock said. “When the association contacted me about being involved, I was like, ‘Yeah, buddy.’ ”
The information session is geared toward letting local groups know what resources are available, specifically funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state, Blackstock said.
“Our children are not hungry because we lack food or because we lack nutrition programs. They are hungry because they lack access to nutrition programs that are proven to work,” a news release from the association said. “We have lacked big-picture strategies to connect our children with the nutritious food they need consistently, rather than on a meal-to-meal basis.”
No Kid Hungry will help improve access to programs, increase community awareness of food programs and conduct advocacy, networking and education activities about childhood hunger, according to a news release.
“I sent out over 250 invitations. We sent them to churches, to family connection programs, to United Way directors in the five areas that we cover,” Blackstock said. “We’re blessed with a community with a lot of people that want to help. There are a lot of smaller churches and groups who do feeding programs in pockets, like for a specific apartment complex.”
Other partners of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank have specific target populations,too, such as schoolchildren during the day and after school.
Food insecurity – not knowing where food will come from – and childhood hunger are growing epidemics in Georgia, which has a childhood poverty rate between 22 and 23 percent, Blackstock said.
But it’s not just children who are going hungry.
“We have a number of senior citizens who are impoverished. Even if they work, there’s costs like transportation and medicine they have to think about,” Blackstock said.
A number of factors contribute to food insecurity, namely the state of the economy, she said. These include the cost of living, health care, food prices and insurance.
“What do kids need? First things that come to mind are food, clothing and shelter,” Blackstock said. “We know hungry people equal sick people. You’re completely at risk when you’re exposed. It’s an overall snowball effect that can lead to underperforming in schools and behavior issues.”