Childhood hunger doesn’t just happen in large cities like New York or Los Angeles or in developing countries. It happens in towns of all sizes and in all states. That is the issue Rev. Catie Newman and Rev. Jena Manchester want to highlight with this year’s Annual Conference Bishop’s Special Mission Project.
“We’ve chosen to support ministries that help feed children in our communities,” said Newman. “It is becoming increasingly more important for churches and community members to step up and take over the programs that we’re used to.”
According to the Iowa Food Bank Association
, 12.6 percent of Iowans are struggling with hunger. This means over 389,250 Iowans, including 139,850 children, struggle between paying bills or buying food.
In the 2013-14 school year
, 41 percent of Iowa’s public school children qualified for free or reduced-price meal programs. For many of these children, school breakfast or lunch are the only nutritious meals they get in a day.
“Many children don’t have breakfast (at home),” said Newman. “That’s why so many school systems serve breakfast.”
The effects on hungry children are significant. According to the American Psychological Association
, food insecurity and hunger can lead to toxic stress, malnutrition, limited cognitive bandwidth, limited physical growth and can cause anxiety and depression.
“Without the proper nutrition, the statistics are astounding at how bad nutrition really does affect our kids,” said Newman. “It’s so important that children have the right nutrition to grow and develop as they should.”
To help bridge meal gaps, many school districts and organizations have stepped up to the plate to help feed children over the weekend. Communities have implemented backpack programs. These programs supply children with backpacks filled with non-perishable, nutritious food for the weekend.
“They’re essentially food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, or heated that gets sent home on Friday afternoon with children so they have something to eat during the weekend,” said Newman. “A number of programs (send home) shelf stable milk, some kind of protein, some kind of dairy and some kind of fruit.”
To highlight the issue during Annual Conference, Newman and Manchester will host a booth in the main hallway of Hy-Vee Hall across from the Treasurer’s office. The display will include examples of backpacks that are sent home and informational materials for conference delegates to take to their home churches.
Newman and Manchester are also asking churches collect a special monetary offering prior to Conference for child nutrition programs. The offerings can be dropped off at their booth. Newman said it is more beneficial to donate money rather than food items.
“The overwhelming job of getting (food) items to where they need to go would be a herculean task,” she said. “Also, we don’t know what the needs of the programs are.”
She said it is better to support these programs financially, letting the people involved with the backpack program purchase the food items themselves.
“Many have a system where they purchase items from stores, groceries and food banks,” she said. “What they really need is money to pay for it.”
Newman and Manchester hope people will stop by to learn more about this issue because it is something that affects every town.
“I’ve had my eyes opened to the fact that what I think is happening isn’t happening elsewhere, but right under my nose,” she said. “And you and I are the ones that are going to fix it.”
For more information on starting a food backpack program, visit www.foodbankiowa.org/backpack
More information about the Bishop's Special Mission Project will soon be available on the Conference website.