For Many Kids, School Breaks Mean Hungry Holidays
In our society, the basic needs and rights of children are entrusted to their families. When abuse, neglect or abandonment break those family ties, the State steps in to place our most vulnerable children in the child welfare system. When home is no longer a safe place, more than 600,000 children a year nationally – currently 3,504 in Broward County alone – are placed in the care of the State. The system is full of compassionate lawyers, judges, social workers, advocates, and foster families, but the overburdened system is ill-equipped to handle both the volume and complexity of these cases.
“Voices for Children of Broward County’s programs and services work to break the cycle of abuse and neglect,” said Erica Herman, Voices for Children of Broward County’s Executive Director. “When children grow up in homes where their only adult role models respond to them with violence and disregard for their needs, they repeat that cycle with their own children. When our program intercedes, it not only changes the course of one child’s life, but also it impacts future generations.”
“A critical component of a high quality of life is good health, which starts with healthy eating. Unfortunately, food insecurity, which is a lack of access to sufficient amounts of food, in particular, healthy and fresh food, and the uncertainty of where one’s next meal will come from, is a significant barrier that prevents so many individuals living, working and thriving in South Florida,” said Jaime Mass R.D.N, of Jaime Mass Nutritionals LLC. “Science shows a clear link between food insecurity in children and associated complications throughout their lifespan. Children that experience food insecurity are more likely to have behavioral issues, low performance in schools, increased hospitalizations, developmental problems, and long-term health complications, such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.”
Hunger is a serious issue for our community and impacts all segments of the population – it knows no racial or cultural boundaries. School vacation breaks and holidays are typically a festive time, with breaks from the routine, meals with loved ones, and special moments. But for many families in Broward County, these times come with intense stress. According to Feeding South Florida, approximately one in six residents will go hungry tonight, with about 80,090 children going to bed hungry every night in Broward County alone.
In addition, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, science-based nutrition education is vital for both children and caregivers to support long-term nutrition wellbeing. The Academy recognizes food insecurity in the United States and continues to stress that action needs to be taken to achieve nutrition security; not only providing food but also pairing food provisions with nutrition education.
The majority of the children that Voices serves are dependent on free or reduced school meals, which has become their only source of basic nutrition. When schools close for breaks, many of the caregivers struggle to fill the gap and are not prepared for the financial burden of purchasing additional food. The wellbeing of these children over break time creates a significant risk for them to experience aggravated food insecurity and may contribute to over eating or disordered eating habits when food is available because the child is unsure of where their next meal is going to come from.
Our School Break Food Program is critical to decrease the likelihood that a child will experience food insecurity during school break times and provide the opportunity to control the incidences of uncontrolled over eating episodes that ultimately lead to obesity in adolescence and adulthood. In addition, providing food during breaks supports overall health and energy giving children an opportunity for a more joyous break from school where they can play and not worry about food; a basic critical need. These children will have a greater chance of returning to school well fed with both physical and mental energy to take on their academics. The program also includes sciece-based nutrition education for the child and their caregiver that will create a long lasting change in eating behaviors. Our program provides the resources and tools for the children to lead a healthy lifestyle that will carry over into adulthood.
We couldn’t offer this program without the generosity of the Paul Palank Memorial Foundation. Through their support, our program is able to serve 50 children breakfast, lunch, and snack for the Thanksgiving, Winter, and Spring breaks, as well as a science-based nutrition educational curriculum.
For more information and ways to get involved with Voices for Children of Broward County, please contact Erica Herman, via email at email@example.com.