Editorials

Editorial: Hunger and the heartland — needs multiply during summer months

Donations, volunteers and a broader understanding of hunger’s pervasiveness are essential to combat child hunger during summer months, when school ends and free and reduced-price lunches aren’t available.
Donations, volunteers and a broader understanding of hunger’s pervasiveness are essential to combat child hunger during summer months, when school ends and free and reduced-price lunches aren’t available. Special to The Star

Summer conjures images of sun-filled vacation days, less hectic schedules and plenty of time for picnics and family barbecues.

Except if putting food on the table is a problem. For large swaths of Kansas and Missouri, it is.

Kansas and Missouri ranked in the bottom 10 states in the country in 2016, according to a report on feeding hungry children during the summer. Families that have trouble providing enough food for their children during the school year struggle even more in the summer months.

Hunger rates are higher, there is less philanthropic giving and when school ends, so do the free and reduced-price lunches many children rely on the rest of the year.

Extra food costs can increase a family’s budget by more than $300 a month in June, July and August, according to Harvesters — The Community Food Network, which serves a 26-county region. In fact, the summer equivalent of the National School Lunch Program serves less than 20 percent of those same students during the summer months.

Many portions of rural America, including parts of Kansas and Missouri, have hunger rates equal to or even higher than urban centers. Rural communities often have fewer pantries and more resistance to accepting help, Harvesters reports.

Even in the so-called “breadbasket of the nation,” the needs are urgent, and too often children simply go without.

Missouri’s Bootheel faces one of the steepest challenges in combating hunger, according to Map the Meal Gap, an annual study. Pemiscot County has one of the highest food insecurity rates — 24.6 percent — in either Missouri or Kansas.

For comparison, Jackson County had a 17.9 percent food insecurity rate. Wyandotte County stood at 16.7 percent. St. Louis County, at 25.7 percent, is struggling mightily.

Food insecurity refers to how the U.S. Department of Agriculture measures hunger, tracking the trouble a family has in providing enough nutrition for all members when balanced against other household bills.

Food insecurity is more prevalent across Missouri, which has higher poverty rates and more people. Kansas fares better except for the southeast part of the state.

To help the counties they serve, Harvesters has launched multiple summer campaigns. The Our Community CAN food drive is held in July. And Step Up to the Plate is in August. Summer BackSnack and Kids Cafe, which distributes meals at parks, swimming pools, libraries and community centers, also help.

But the needs remain great. Donations, volunteers and a broader understanding of hunger’s pervasiveness are essential.

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