An Exciting Week for THI: Legislation Moves Forward, Kids’ Voices are Heard

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Children from Elsa England Elementary in Round Rock and Travis Heights Elementary in Austin were able to meet Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. shortly after the Breakfast Bill passed the Texas House of Representatives.

It has been an exciting week for the Texas Hunger Initiative. Last Thursday, Senate Bill 376, the “Breakfast Bill,” passed the Texas House of Representatives and now moves forward to the governor’s office. And yesterday, House Bill 749 passed through the Senate Committee on Government Organization with a unanimous vote. In this bill, it is proposed that the Texas Hunger Initiative and the Texas Department of Agriculture would work together on a five-year plan to increase participation in summer food programs.

It really is history in the making.  These two bills have the potential to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry children throughout the state.

Children from Elsa England Elementary in Round Rock and Travis Heights Elementary in Austin witnessed history unfold last week with the announcement of SB 376 passing the House, as they stood on the steps of the State Capitol for their Rally Against Childhood Hunger.

Funded by the Sodexo grant, Elsa England Elementary third-graders have been tackling childhood hunger all year, raising funds, giving presentations to younger students, and even writing persuasive letters to President Obama.

For their teacher and primary organizer of the project, Rachael Brunson, childhood hunger is an issue that hits close to home.

“There were many, many days when I did not have enough to eat,” Brunson said in an interview with TV station KXAN in Austin. “When you don’t have enough to eat, you find it hard to concentrate on anything except where you’re going to get your next meal.”

Childhood hunger is a huge problem in Texas today, affecting one in four Texas children, according to a study from Feeding America.

Ricky, a student at Travis Heights Elementary, brings a face to these statistics.

“I myself have suffered from hunger,” he said during the rally, standing on top of a crate to reach the microphone. “It affected my grades and I went all the time not knowing where my next meal would come from. I don’t want any other kids to suffer like I did.”

Because of stories like Ricky’s, childhood hunger became the issue the students rallied around.  Elsa England students partnered with students from Travis Heights Elementary to prepare for their rally at the Capitol, months before the event. They rehearsed chants, brainstormed T-shirt designs, and created colorful posters and banners.

Students came to the Capitol ready for their rally, armed with chants like “Kids should never be famished!” and posters urging the public to “Get involved now!”

Speakers included Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, Joanna Linden, CDO of Capitol Area Food Bank, and Dr. Jesús H. Chávez, superintendent of Round Rock ISD.

Linden said her work puts her directly in the front lines of hungry children, and shows her how crucial the issue is in Texas.

“I get to see many different faces of hunger every single day, and as a mom of two daughters of my own, the thing that disturbs me the most is the face of a hungry child. Two out of every five of our clients are kids,” Linden said. “Food is the fuel for children to learn and develop every single day. Hunger limits a child’s potential and their opportunity to grow.”

Linden was inspired by the enthusiasm of the students, teachers and all involved in the rally.

“They inspire the work that we do to make sure that kids are fed. Through partnerships, through people getting together, we truly are able to make a difference,” Linden said.

After the Breakfast Bill passed, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. spoke to the students on how crucial the legislation will be for children across Texas.

“Studies over and over again have indicated to us that if a child eats a nutritious meal, then he or she will learn more, and that’s what we want,” Lucio, Jr. said. “You will be our leaders of tomorrow, and we want you to be healthy. We want a healthy workforce, healthy families, and we want all of you to lead us in the right direction—our state, our country, our world.”

Round Rock Superintendent Chávez hopes the rally, and the hunger project, will have long-term impact on students.

“It shows them the difference that they individually can make, and the power of a group and working together,” he said.

For Daniel, a student at Elsa England Elementary, the project and rally have made him more aware of issues affecting children in his community and around the world.

“I’ve loved everything we’ve done. I knew it would make me a better person, because it’s a big problem that I’m solving,” he said.

Daniel has plans to work in a career where he can continue the fight against hunger when he grows up, in a “place where there’s a lot of hungry kids.”

But let’s hope he doesn’t have to do so. Let’s hope that our work, the work of similar organizations, and Texas legislation can wipe hunger off the map, so students like Daniel can live in a state where childhood hunger doesn’t exist.

Written by: Ashley Yeaman, Social Media & Communications Coordinator, Texas Hunger Initiative

Photo by: Charis Dietz, Director of Communications, Texas Hunger Initiative

Hunger Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation

Summer is upon us and for many this means carefree days of fun in the sun. However, for the more than two million Texas children who rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition, summer means they lose access to these programs and the guarantee of food that will allow them to lead healthy, active lives.

Texas currently has the fifth-highest rate of child food insecurity in the country, meaning that 1.8 million children don’t know where their next meal will come from, especially during the summer months. More than one in four Texas children are at risk of hunger. How is this possible in a state with plenty of resources to feed all of our children?

Of the nearly 2.5 million children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch, only 9 percent — around 200,000 — also participate in the Summer Food Service Program, better know as the summer meals program. While the summer meals program is one of the most complex social services to implement, we can do better and owe it to the children of our state. Through public-private collaboration that includes federal, state and local government leaders, as well as nonprofits, faith communities, the business sector and parents, we can make considerable progress.

The Texas Hunger Initiative, a statewide anti-hunger project within the Baylor University School of Social Work, is committed to turning around these alarming statistics. In partnership with Share Our Strength — the nation’s leading child anti-hunger organization — we recently launched the Texas No Kid Hungry campaign with the goal of increasing children’s participation in nutrition programs offered in Texas. By identifying barriers to summer meals participation and convening the necessary parties that can work together to overcome these challenges, the summer meals program can succeed.

The main barriers are lack of awareness about the program, lack of access to summer meals sites and not enough feeding sites to meet the growing need. The Texas Hunger Initiative, along with many partner organizations, is working with local summer meals sponsors to implement new and creative recruiting methods to increase awareness and to recruit more summer feeding sites. Our goal is to increase summer meals participation by the end of summer by 9 percent, which equates to 19,000 children served daily, as well as to add 50 meals sites throughout the state.

This summer, parents can dial 211 to find feeding sites in their neighborhoods. Feeding sites are located in high-need areas and all children under the age of 18 in these areas are welcome to receive a meal.

Not only are our children going hungry during the summer, but Texas, which faces serious budget challenges like many other states, missed out on $47 million in 2010 because of low participation in the summer meals program. Texas Hunger Initiative efforts that will increase low-income children’s access to food over the summer will also bring much-needed federal funding to the state.

Feeding our neediest and hungriest children during the summer months is a win-win on many levels, so let’s band together and make it happen.

Written by  Jeremy Everett

 Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative

This entry can be found on  the Huffington Post