School nurse Kim Lightfoot can tell when children haven’t had enough to eat.
They complain of stomachaches. Headaches. They get a little cranky and may even act out.
“I’m a firm believer that they have to have something in that little body,” said Lightfoot, a nurse in the Hickman Mills School District. “If they don’t have something to eat in the morning, they don’t want to work. They don’t have the energy.”
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And if they don’t have enough food at home to tide them over from a Friday night to Monday morning, they come to school distracted.
That’s what researchers have found when they study children who are considered “food insecure,” meaning they don’t always have enough to eat at home. Another finding: The Harvesters BackSnacks that go home with more than 19,000 area schoolchildren each Friday appear to make a difference.
In a study conducted over the 2012-2013 school year, researchers from the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership at the University of Missouri-Kansas City found that when kids receive the extra food to take home, they perform better at school. Those results backed up similar studies in previous years.
“Children report that it is easier for them to work on their own, to understand their teachers,” the study said, “and to understand their homework.”
Researchers for the 2012-2013 study interviewed school officials and children who receive the weekend packs of food. They found that schools in the BackSnack program saw a reduction in absences for medical reasons. Also fewer tardy students, fewer nurse visits and fewer trips to see counselors or social workers.
And grades improved in all four major academic areas: math, science, social studies and English. Increase ranged from 12 percent in science to 22 percent in English.
“Made lots of improvements since Aug :),” one school official in the study noted.
Added another: “Excellent student, truly benefits from BackSnack.”
The packs of food provide children enough for two breakfasts, two other meals and snacks.
At the elementary school where Lightfoot works, the nurse knows how some families need the extra food.
“I’ve had kids come in and say they didn’t have food at home,” she said. “I’ve had occasions when kids said they would have chips at home, but nothing healthy. Because healthy is expensive.
“When we send them home, we don’t know what they’re getting or not getting. They could get home and not have anything in the house.”
One child in the study didn’t hesitate to praise the weekly food packs.
“We sometimes get very little money,” the girl said. “We get food for free. My mom runs low on money.”
Feed KC kids
This holiday season, The Star is again partnering with Harvesters on a virtual food drive to raise money for the area’s hungriest children.
All money goes to Harvesters’ BackSnack program, which provides low-income children with packs of food. A $25 donation provides a child BackSnacks for a month; $250 provides BackSnacks for a year.
If you’d like to give, go to FeedingKCKids.HarvestersVFD.org. (Or you can send a check to Harvesters, 3801 Topping Ave., Kansas City, MO 64129.) You can donate in a loved one’s name, with reader dedications published in The Star’s Christmas edition. The deadline for dedications is 5 p.m. Dec. 21.