This week, I got to do one of my favorite things: talk to a group of students – in this case, 8th graders – about hunger in our community.
What do kids in the suburbs really know about hunger? What “face” do they describe when asked who might go to food banks?
Students, even sophisticated ones, tend to think that the “face of hunger” looks like the homeless individual on the freeway ramps or busy intersections. They think that “hungry” children live in third world countries and have gaunt faces and emaciated bodies.
They are surprised to learn that hunger is everywhere: in apartment buildings, in neat homes where a senior has lived most of her or her adult life, in a house down the street.
Our students are shocked to learn that just because someone has a job, they may not make enough to feed their family, especially if the family is faced with an unexpected illness, car repair, or medical bill. They think everyone who works makes “enough.” They are very surprised to find out that seniors who have worked their entire lives, do not always have enough to feed themselves when they are older. It’s hard for them to imagine a “hungry” grandmother, or a grandpa that cuts back on food to pay his rent.
When it comes to low income families, our students do not realize that there are neighborhoods in our community without adequate access to fruits and vegetables. Low income neighborhoods may have dozens of inexpensive, fast food restaurants and convenience marts, but a Farmer’s Market or even a super market with fresh fruits and vegetables is not conveniently located for families. So they are surprised to learn that obesity, diabetes, and hyper-tension, all caused by malnutrition, are the most frequently cited health problems of food bank clients. It is counter intuitive to realize that an obese person is really “starving” for healthy foods.
Our students need to understand about the “faces of hunger” that live in our community. They need to know that “hunger” is often times hidden and defies stereotypical descriptions. Most importantly, they need to know that “hunger” is not what they think.
— Eileen Thomas