The Role of Community in Alleviating Childhood Hunger and Malnutrition

Op Ed - The Role of Community in Alleviating Childhood Hunger and Malnutrition - Cornelius Hogan, Plainfield, VT.

We have gotten so used to assuming that there are programs that will make sure that our neighbors are not going hungry or not suffering from the cold. Sadly, the programs that helped people meet their basic needs have been eroded over the past 30 years and, with the rising costs for food and fuel, many more people including children are going hungry. Vermonters have always been willing to help members of their community once they are made aware of the need. With rising costs, more people are going without food and we need to look around us and make sure that there are adequate food programs, especially for children.

One of the most important institutions in our communities that has had a positive impact on childhood malnutrition and hunger is our schools. Our schools have dramatically improved the access of children to school breakfasts and lunches over the last 10 to 20 years, culminating in just completed Vermont legislative action which will ensure that every low-income child has access to a school breakfast, so they have the proper fuel to learn. However, the buying power of the federal reimbursement for school breakfast and lunch has steadily declined over this time period, making it increasingly difficult for schools to provide quality meals.

How well our schools can feed children depends on community involvement. Yes, the federal and state governments play a large role in funding these school meal programs, but it is the people in and around the local schools that find creative ways to teach children about food, incorporate local foods, model good eating habits, and identify additional resources to support the meal programs. Schools with such quality programs are easy to spot because most of the students and teaching are participating and adults outside of the school are joining them for meals. This kind of inclusive program not only feeds those children who may be going without at home, but also feeds the need for community that we all share.

Schools are a microcosm of our communities. More and more it is recognized that it is the relationships among people that provide the social glue that brings us together around common purpose, in this case making sure that ALL of our children have the proper nutrition to thrive.

Yes, direct resources, policies, and procedures are important parts of successful children’s nutrition programs in our county and State, but the real power for change lies in the natural caring and nurturing of the people in our communities.

More and more we're seeing that principle of caring human relationships at work in our expanding volunteerism, the explosion of youth mentoring, and a proliferation of service programs in our communities. We need to extend these circles of caring to the common purpose of making sure that all of our children have the nutritional opportunities to fully grow intellectually and physically, so that ten to twenty years from now they are fully contributing members of our communities and society as a whole.

Great thanks to the many people in all of the communities in Washington County who are helping make this aspiration a reality, even in the face of increasingly more difficult economic circumstances for all of us.

Cornelius 'Con' Hogan, co-chair
Hunger Council of Washington County

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