Back to School, Back to Breakfast

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There’s a reason the phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” has been drilled into our heads. If you miss breakfast, chances are your entire day is thrown off-course—you’re hungry long before it’s time for lunch, meaning you have difficulty focusing on work. You might overeat at lunch or throughout the day to compensate—making choices that may not be the healthiest as cravings kick in. And all of this can impact your mood.

Science also backs up the need to start the day with breakfast. Skipping breakfast has been linked with numerous health issues, including disruptions to metabolism, obesity, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. [1]

For students, the list of breakfast benefits gets even longer. Studies show that regular consumption of breakfast has been associated with improved social performance [2], with teachers reporting better concentration, alertness and better behavior. [3] Breakfast helps ensure an adequate intake of essential nutrients [4,5], improves overall eating habits [6] and keeps students out of the nurse’s office (starting the day with food means students are less likely to have common complaints like stomachaches and dizziness). [7]

Incorporating breakfast into a daily routine seems like an easy choice, especially with all the pros it offers for students. But for food-insecure children and families, it’s not that simple. They may want to start their day with breakfast but our not financially able to do so. That’s where the School Breakfast Program comes into play.

The School Breakfast Program, including alternative service models like Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab and Go, and Second Chance Breakfast, gives all students an opportunity to start their school day fueled and ready to succeed. Stories from around the state demonstrate the positive impact breakfast can have on students’ lives.

For example, Shelly Lyles, an elementary teacher in Fairfield ISD, still remembers a third-grader in one of her classes who frequently complained of stomachaches, which kept him from focusing in class. After several days, Lyles began to put the pieces together. “Did you eat today?” she asked him. “Well, no…” he said.

When his needs started to be met through school meals and other outside assistance, he had a chance to “become a regular kid,” Lyles said. ‘When the fear of not having food was taken care of, his focus was then on school work. He made friends. Before, all he wanted to do was get something to eat. He wasn’t able to focus. He wasn’t able to carry on a conversation. but once that was taken care of and his physical needs were met, he was able to move on to developing social relationships.”

Breakfast benefits for students are holistic, and that’s why, as we begin the start of another school year, we are celebrating the School Breakfast Program and the work to increase participation in it. We’re inspired by the creative strategies to make school breakfast work for campuses across the state. We hope you’ll join us in championing breakfast as a key part of each school day!

To learn more about the School Breakfast Program and read success stories about school breakfast from around the state, check out our free resource, the Texas School Breakfast Report Card.

By: Ashley Yeaman, Social Media & Communications Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative

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[1] Walton, Alice G. (2013). Why is Skipping Breakfast So Bad For Our Hearth Health? Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2013/07/23/why-is-skipping-breakfast-so-bad-for-our-heart-health/#33c8d33d58b1

[2] Adolphus, K., Lawton, C.L, & Dye L. (2013). The effects of breakfast on behavior and academic performance in children and adolescents. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7. Doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00425. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737458/

[3] Brown, J.L., Beardslee, W.H., & Prothrow-Stith, D. (2008). Impact of school breakfast on children’s health and learning: An analysis of the scientific research. Retrieved from http://us.stop-hunger.org/home.html.

[4] Augustine-Thottungla, R., Kern, J., Key, J., & Sherman, B. (2013). Ending childhood hunger: A social impact analysis. Retrieved from https://www.nokidhungry.org/pdfs/school-breakfast-white-paper.pdf

[5] Nolen, E. and Krey, K. (2015). The Effect of Universal-Free School Breakfast on milk consumption and nutrient intake. Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. http://www.dairymax.org/sites/default/files/Effect%20of%20Universal-Free%20School%20Breakfast%20on%20Milk%20Consumption%20and%20Nutrient%20Intake.pdf

[6] Bhattacharya, J., Currie, J., and Haider, S. (2004). Breakfast of champions: The School Breakfast Program and the nutrition of children and families. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w10608.pdf.

[7] Hartline-Graft, H. (2014). Breakfast for health. Retrieved from http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/breakfastforhealth.pdf.

Do what we can, where we are, with whatever we have.

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Written by: Leah Reed, No Kid Hungry Youth Ambassador, Texas Hunger Initiative – Waco Regional Office

My name is Leah Reed, and I’m originally from Hayward, California, about a 25-minute drive from the lovely San Francisco. I’ve found myself in Waco, Texas, for a few years, studying at Baylor University, where I am a junior religion major, minoring in sociology and poverty studies & social justice.

I’ve been passionate about learning about and addressing hunger and poverty since middle school. I’ve had the opportunity to go on various outreach trips—both at home and abroad—in which my eyes have been opened to the harsh realities of poverty and all that comes with it. But I’ve seen that there’s no need to go to faraway places in order to be exposed to and educated about hunger and poverty issues. I was able to learn about homelessness in my native Oakland/San Francisco area through volunteering at local food banks. When I moved to Waco, I learned about poverty and homelessness in Texas. Sometimes, the people right in front of us are the ones who need our help and our advocacy. The way we treat and care for the most vulnerable among us speaks volumes about who we are as a society and what we value. I want to be a part of a society that cares for its people and gives every person the opportunity to thrive. Unfortunately, for many Americans, hunger really gets in the way of achieving their goals.

This past spring while studying abroad, I visited the Berlin Wall, where I saw an inspiring mural with these beautiful words: “Many small people who, in many small places, do many small things that can alter the face of the world.” This world is full of injustice and broken systems, and that can be overwhelming. I often feel paralyzed by the fact that there is so much pain and need and brokenness, and I feel like there’s nothing I can do. I’m just one person, after all. I get really sad, feel hopeless, and think that this is just how the world is—we’ll just have to deal with it. And I do think there is a place for stopping to recognize and grieve for the injustice our world faces. But there is also a place for recognizing that we do have the power to do what we can, where we are, with whatever we have. Big changes are made up of small actions by hopeful people who refuse to believe that they are incapable of making the world better.

Ever since I first learned of it, I’ve admired the work of the Texas Hunger Initiative. I am humbled and grateful to have this opportunity to work with THI through the No Kid Hungry Youth Ambassador position. I love being able to see the power of this collaboration, the way that diverse organizations come together, being innovative and approaching issues from different angles, but working with the same goal in mind—ending hunger. I’m thankful to be a part of these efforts.

A Community Filled with Love and Support

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Written by: Eugenie Schieve, Research Intern, Texas Hunger Initaitive

Early Monday morning, June 6, several staff members of the Texas Hunger Initiative and I set out for the three hour drive to Nacogdoches, a mid-sized city in East Texas. It was only my second day on the job, and I was extremely anxious to discover what we might encounter on this site visit. The goal of the Nacogdoches trip was to connect with the community through a listening session with community members.

Founded almost eight years ago, THI set out to end hunger across the state of Texas. As primary component of poverty, addressing hunger seemed like an obvious issue that could and should be solved. However, conquering hunger across a large state is still a complex problem. The struggles of food insecurity differ immensely across age groups and regions. In order for THI to better approach the issue of hunger, it is necessary to maintain a connection within communities, which is exactly what we set out to do. And, as a research intern, I was tasked with observing the conversations and taking extensive notes.

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Children at the Summer Meals kickoff event at Davis Memorial Church enjoy a variety of activities, including horseback riding and a petting zoo.

We arrived at our first stop, Davis Memorial Church, late in the morning, ready to attend a Summer Meals Kickoff event. A petting zoo with horses and other animals was already set up outside in addition to a few bouncy houses and a face-painting tent. At first glance, the kickoff simply resembled a celebration. But when I took a closer look, it became clear that the purpose was to strategically connect low-income families with as many useful resources as possible. As the time neared for the ribbon cutting ceremony, THI staff members met with a number of people, such as Pastor Al Shaw and his wife, Sandy, who were hosting the event, Bill Ludwig from the USDA, Nacogdoches Mayor Roger Van Horn, County Judge Mike Perry and Congressman Louie Gohmert. I was in awe of the number of people who came out to support the event ranging from the community, to the local government, to state government, all the way up to the federal government. It seems so rare that these voices are able to come together to tackle such a pressing issue.

As the day progressed, we moved from the Kickoff event and met with caseworkers and parents at Head Start, a federally funded educational program for at-risk families, the executive director and a volunteer/beneficiary of HOPE (Helping Other People Eat), a local food pantry, and finished by sharing dinner with Pastor Shaw, Mrs. Shaw, and two single mothers who have benefitted from the community, state and federal programs. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that all of these people were so willing to open up and share their experiences with us—difficult subjects that most people shy away from.

THI staff members speak wit Denise Lee, a volunteer at HOPE (Helping Other People Eat) in Nacogdoches. The food pantry serves more than 1,500 area residents each month, and is operated solely by volunteers.
THI staff members speak wit Denise Lee, a volunteer at HOPE (Helping Other People Eat) in Nacogdoches. The food pantry serves more than 1,500 area residents each month, and is operated solely by volunteers.

I realize how frequently our misperceptions influence our response toward hunger and low-income families. Each and every one was striving toward self-sufficiency, combatting the hopelessness of generational poverty, and giving what they could back to their communities.

No one understands poverty and hunger better than those who have experienced it first hand. THI seeks to coordinate across all levels of government and communities in order to develop meaningful changes. Oftentimes there is a disconnect between the boots on the ground and those who possess the ability to affect change. THI serves as the listening ear in communities. The Shaws exuded a sense of empowerment; they knew that their never-ending endeavors to support and improve the community were being recognized and supported.

Pastor Al Shaw (pictured at center) of Davis Memorial Church accepts a proclamation from the City of Nachogdoches, supporting the church’s efforts around summer meals.
Pastor Al Shaw (pictured at center) of Davis Memorial Church accepts a proclamation from the City of Nachogdoches, supporting the church’s efforts around summer meals.

I want to thank all of the kind people of Nacogdoches who opened up their hearts and homes to THI. When we first set out, I was anxious—afraid that the realities would be too harsh to face, but my experience was just the opposite. As Jean Vanier, a Canadian Catholic philosopher, theologian and humanitarian, appropriately describes it, “Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don’t need a lot of money to be happy—in fact, the opposite.” I’m grateful to have seen a side of a community that wasn’t filled with sadness and hopelessness, but rather a community filled with love and support.

 

Photos by: Madyson Russell, No Kid Hungry Youth Ambassador, Texas Hunger Initiative

Lifelong Learner and Servant Leader: Meet Grace Norman

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“I want to be passionate about what I’m doing every day, every moment of the day, whether that’s work or time with family and friends.”

The most effective workers are those who find what they’re passionate about, pair that with their talents and work tirelessly to make their organization’s vision become a reality. You would be hard-pressed to find a person that embodies those three characteristics more than Grace Norman.

For the past year, Norman has acted as Texas Hunger Initiative’s No Kid Hungry Campaign Manager, serving mainly as a liaison between field staff working on child nutrition programs and THI’s central office. She seeks to amplify what goes on in the field and serve staff well in any way possible. Before joining central office, Norman was in Lubbock working as a field staff member for nearly two years, making her a perfect candidate for her current position. Norman has nothing but encouraging words for field staff, and their work gets her excited about her job.

“Our field staff are incredible people, and they blow me away every day. That’s what excites me,” she said.

Very few people that have a vision for their life from a young age actually see that vision come to fruition, but Norman is an exception. She has always felt a calling to the public sector and was drawn to nonprofits and volunteer opportunities. With a dad who has a background in agriculture, Norman was interested in food systems, leading her to study agriculture at Texas A&M University followed by a master’s degree in nonprofit management in state and local governments. Her knowledge of agriculture and food systems coupled with her desire to work in the public sector led her to apply for a job at THI.

“I was interested in how nonprofit organizations, government entities and public sector organizations work together for the common good,” Norman said.

Norman speaks highly of the many mentors and role models she’s had throughout her life and gives them credit for the person she is today. She considers herself a lifelong learner and has always seen the value in seeking wise council, whether it is from friends, family or professionals. Her constant pursuit of mentors and expert advice is just one example of how she continuously strives to be a better worker. Even during our short conversation she pointed out areas of her work upon which she would like to improve.

Anyone who has met Norman knows that she has a love for people, so it’s no mystery why her favorite part of her job is interacting with the people she works with. Working in hunger and poverty issues is a huge bonus, but what drives her to do excellent work each day is a desire to serve her coworkers well and not let her team down.

When asked what she’s passionate about, Norman simply responded, “I don’t know, and I’m ok with that.” While she is very passionate about her work, she doesn’t want to find her identify in work. She’s still searching for what her greatest passions are, and in the mean time, she’s trusting in God to fill in the details.

“I was shown that if I just have faith in God’s sovereign plan, then mine doesn’t matter,” she said.

Grace Norman is a relational, vision-driven person who empowers and encourages the people around her. Although nonprofit work can oftentimes be challenging or discouraging, she keeps a consistently positive attitude by asking herself “what can I smile about today?” She finds joy in big and little wins alike. Because of this positivity along with her love for people and strong work ethic, she will continue to work well and make an impact in the world of hunger for years to come.

By: Blair Bohm, Communications Intern, Texas Hunger Initiative

Hunger in Texas Trip: 6 Students Served in West Texas Over Spring Break

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After reflecting on the national scale of the Hunger in America Trip that the Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) takes in May, Field Director Jared Gould, Director of Programs Doug McDurham and No Kid Hungry Campaign Manager Grace Norman decided that they wanted Baylor students to experience and understand hunger and poverty that exists in their own backyard—West Texas.

Over Spring Break, THI took six students on a tour of West Texas starting in San Angelo, then moving on to a colonia in El Paso and finally ending the trip in Lubbock.

“We wanted the students to walk away with a greater consciousness of hunger and poverty in their own state,” Jared Gould said. “We will always have the poor, so how can we serve them?”

The students experienced food distribution through a partnership between a food bank and a congregation in an El Paso Colonia. They also worked in an urban garden and met with State Representative Drew Darby in San Angelo and Senator Charles Perry in Lubbock to talk about food insecurity.

To help the students process what they had seen and participated in while on the trip, the Hunger in Texas team took a mid-week hike up Guadalupe Peak—the tallest peak in Texas. The students were challenged to think about how the mountain tied in spiritually with the level of need and the systems being utilized to fulfill that need.

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Baylor students Faith Badders, Christina Desert and Ian Zhang take a quick picture before beginning their hike at Guadalupe Peak.

“I want to seek to live in a way where I share my privileges and power with others,” Second year MSW student Christina Desert said. “How do I, as a person with privileges and power, decrease my power and privileges to include people? How do I, in my work and in my daily life, practice inclusivity by bringing people to the center, those who have been pushed to the margins?”

The six students that went on the trip had the chance to experience hunger and poverty in a new way. They now have the opportunity to take what they learned and build on it as well as bring it back to Baylor and their every day life.

You can learn more about THI’s domestic mission trips through Baylor Missions on its website. Applications are currently closed, but Baylor University students can apply for 2017 trips this fall.

 

Story by: Madyson Russell, Communications Intern, Texas Hunger Initiative

Photos by: Hunger in Texas 2016 Team

Let’s Make Breakfast the Norm

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Written by: Craig Nash, Child Hunger Outreach Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative – Waco Regional Office

By the time buses arrive at La Vega Elementary School to deliver their precious cargo to teachers and administrators for the day, Melissa McGough and her Child Nutrition Team have been busy for almost two hours preparing to meet the daily nutrition needs of students. Tomatoes are being cut and cabbage washed. Lunch sandwiches are being assembled and even meals that will be eaten after the school day ends are in the early stages of being pieced together. But when students first walk through the doors, there is one thing on their mind: breakfast!

On this particular day, the menu of choices consists of kolaches (a Central Texas favorite) cinnamon rolls, whole grain cereal, fresh fruit, and of course, milk. The students file through the line effortlessly. By this point in the school year they are acclimated to the rhythm: pick one fruit selection and two other items to complete their meal; tell their student ID number to the lady at the register; grab a package of silverware and napkins before walking to their table with their breakfast tray in hand; eat breakfast with their friends before standing in line for the trash can; dispose of their tray and head off to class, but not before the obligatory hug from Julia, the custodian managing the line.

Within a window of just a few minutes, each of these children have practiced several skills necessary to thrive into adulthood, from making healthy choices and remembering personal information to enjoying conversation with other people over a meal and receiving love from someone who cares about them. They probably aren’t aware of any of this just yet, but all the things happening in these moments are adding up to help them become the best possible version of themselves. What they do know, however, is that they are starting their day off with a stomach full of good things that help fuel their bodies and minds through morning classes.

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Over a quarter of all Texas children are food-insecure, which simply means that their families face barriers in accessing three healthy meals a day. To overcome these challenges, parents often have to make choices—skip a meal or reduce the amount of nutrition at each meal? In a given week these tough decisions may seem miniscule, nothing more than what many people have to do to get by. But over the course of weeks and months they can have many adverse affects. Thankfully, there are armies of people and organizations dedicated to fighting hunger among our most vulnerable young ones. On the front lines of this battle are dedicated school nutrition workers like Melissa McGough and her team at La Vega ISD.

March 7-11, 2016 is National School Breakfast Week. This is an opportunity for all who care about ending child hunger to consider ways they can support and encourage their local school districts to guarantee that every student who needs a healthy breakfast gets one. At La Vega, one of the barriers to this occurring—cost—has been eliminated. Using a provision in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the district is able to provide a free, nutritious breakfast to all its students without collecting applications, which reduces labor costs and increases revenue. Other districts are finding creative ways to ensure that every child has access to breakfast by offering it in the classroom at the beginning of the day or later in the morning after the first class.

You can be an advocate for every child in your community by asking your school administrators about their breakfast programs and if they have explored options to make the first meal of the day more accessible to students. Our communities have assumed for a long time that schools will pull out all the stops to provide a healthy lunch to all its students, as it occurs in the middle of the school day when the need for nutrition seems most evident. Let’s all push for the same assumption to be placed on breakfast, so that the high participation found at schools like La Vega is the norm, not an anomaly.

For more ways you can support your local school districts and join our efforts to end childhood food insecurity, contact your nearest THI office.

Hunger Heroes: Connecting the Dots in Indianapolis

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At Together at the Table 2015, we highlighted a few of the many individuals working to end hunger in their communities. Learn more about each of these “Hunger Heroes” and their work in our latest blog series, and get ready to be inspired! This week, read about David Miner’s work connecting nonprofits, food banks and other organizations to fight hunger in Indianapolis. 

Dave Miner
Dave Miner, Chairperson of the Indy Hunger Network

Dave Miner likes to draw maps—making connections is his forte. Understanding the interworking facets of food insecurity and those who work toward alleviating the gap between the food needed and the food provided is his passion.

As chairperson of the Indy Hunger Network, Miner uses his background in product development to approach hunger-centric project ideas through the lens of sustainability, access and nutrition.

One of the first projects Dave and the Indy Hunger Network took on was putting together an asset map of resources addressing food insecurity in the community. “When we started into this original map it looked like a plate of spaghetti—lines going everywhere. In the city of Indianapolis there are about 200 organizations that do something with food insecurity,” Dave Miner said. “It didn’t take a rocket scientist to look at it and say, wow, there is probably some opportunity for improvement here.”

In 2014 the Indy Hunger Network did a study to understand the city and its systems better. First, they made a list to connect all the sources of food across the city and placed that information into a pie chart of who does what. Through this study, the Network found that the number of meals served in Indianapolis increased by 40 million from the previous year. This gave them a basis to work from. With so many meals being served, the Network didn’t need to focus on providing more meals but instead on how to sustain the system at that level, while also improving access to nutrition.

“You might look at [our asset map], that plate of spaghetti, and think, ‘Wow, there is a lot of stuff in there. There is a lot of things we should do away with and try to consolidate,’” Miner said. “But after understanding the system and what different groups are doing, we realized we actually need everyone’s help.”

Collective efforts are key to fighting food insecurity in Indianapolis, Miner said. The community can’t rely solely on faith-based organizations, nor can it rely exclusively on secular groups. It definitely can’t go without federal help because federal aid accounts for 90 percent of the food given. And private donations are also important, because there is a large group of people who are living above 185% of the poverty line, meaning they aren’t eligible for federal support but still need assistance. Everyone has a substantial piece of the food assistance puzzle.

The Indy Hunger Network’s mission is to create a system that ensures anyone who is hungry in its community can access the food they need. The Indy Hunger Network is driven by its belief that by working together to make the system more efficient and effective, it is possible to dramatically reduce hunger. This work happens thanks to the efforts of people like Dave Miner, who are passionate about bringing people together to create systematic change.

 

Written by: Madyson Russell, No Kid Hungry Communications Youth Ambassador, Texas Hunger Initiative

Hunger Heroes: A VISTA’s Inspiring Work in El Paso

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At Together at the Table 2015, we highlighted a few of the many individuals working to end hunger in their communities. Learn more about each of these “Hunger Heroes” and their work in our latest blog series, and get ready to be inspired! This week, read about Perla Chaparro’s VISTA service at El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank, where she coordinates programs to educate families on health and nutrition.

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Perla Chaparro, VISTA member in El Paso, Texas

Perla Chaparro is a prime example of a “Hunger Hero” making a significant impact in her community. She is currently entering her second year as an AmeriCorps VISTA with El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank to combat hunger and educate people on health.

From her short description of her work, it is clear that Chaparro stays busy. Some aspects of her job include helping coordinate two or three health fairs each week, visiting distribution sites, developing partnerships with agencies and providers and helping with the mobile pantry program, which is a truck distribution service. Through her work, Chaparro gets the chance to directly serve people, which is her favorite part of her job.

“Even if I could help just one person learn about a program that could help them or tell them about a free clinic, I think that’s all I need,” she said.

Thanks to Chaparro, new health and hunger services and resources reached more than 5,000 people in just her first year through facilitating partnerships with over 90 agencies and providers, according to her VISTA Program Manager Angela Baucom.

“Health fairs coordinated by Perla have involved more than 20 agencies at a time, reaching up to 300 individuals,” Baucom said. “We continue to be impressed and inspired by Perla’s work!”

Chaparro partners with some of Texas Tech University’s cancer prevention programs, multiple clinics in El Paso and third year medical students, among others, to educate and empower families that may otherwise lack access to health information. She hopes that through her efforts, clients will continually become more open to receiving education in health that will decrease their chances of getting chronic diseases.

While Chaparro has a deep passion for helping people through her work, she has not always been in this particular field. She first got her degree in journalism from University of Texas in El Paso and worked at a newspaper for a time. Her love for serving people paired with her interest in both increasing food security and educating people on how to avoid chronic diseases motivated her to apply for her current position. After her time as a VISTA, she plans to finish her master’s degree in social work to continue working in this field.

“We have a lot of need in El Paso, especially being a border city,” Chaparro said. Understanding this need and how it can be met is what motivates her to continue her work.

We are inspired by Chaparro and her dedication and service to the El Paso Community. She is a true example of what it means to be a Hunger Hero!

Post by: Blair Bohm, Communications Intern, Texas Hunger Initiative

Hunger Heroes: Addressing food insecurity at hospitals

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At Together at the Table 2015, we highlighted a few of the many individuals working to end hunger in their communities. Learn more about each of these “Hunger Heroes” and their work in our latest blog series, and get ready to be inspired! This week, read about how a doctor at a children’s hospital is helping raise awareness around food insecurity and the ways medical professionals can get involved in the fight to end hunger.

Dr. Patrick Casey
Dr. Patrick Casey

Over a career that has spanned more than 30 years, Dr. Patrick Casey of Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) has seenthousands of children, many of whom were underdeveloped. Some of these cases are linked to medical issues such as cerebral palsy, which causes difficulties with chewing and swallowing, leading to undernourishment—but for children who don’t have an underlying medical issue, these problems often relate to the quality of their diet.

Dr. Casey retired from seeing patients this summer but continues to conduct research at ACH. He first began studying food insecurity in the 1990s, as part of a research project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “It was my first time to become aware of this notion of food insecurity,” Dr. Casey said.  Since that initial project, Dr. Casey has continued to research the impacts of food insecurity. Since the mid-1990s, Dr. Casey and ACH have provided extensive data on children’s health and well-being in Arkansas, collected through patient surveys and interviews. Currently, Dr. Casey is collaborating with Children’s HealthWatch, an organization committed to improving children’s health throughout the country.

“Through the years, the prevalence of food insecurity [in Arkansas] had run relatively stable, around 10 to 11 percent of the families that we interviewed,” Dr. Casey said. “But in 2008, it doubled up to more than 20 percent, and that really caught my attention. Frankly, it hasn’t dropped since then. And that motivated me to say—maybe at our hospitals, we should be doing something to try to influence the issue of hunger.”

A recent report published by Children’s HealthWatch highlights the high rates of food insecurity in Arkansas. As recently as 2013, Arkansas had the second-highest overall population rate of food insecurity in the United States—19.7 percent or 570,000. The rate of food insecurity among households with children is substantially higher at 27.7 percent, affecting approximately 196,950 children.

Food insecurity can harm multiple aspects of a child’s well-being, including growth, development, behavior, academic performance and overall physical health. The first years of a child’s life are especially critical, because this is a time of significant brain development. During this period, deprivation of food, for any length of time, can have harmful consequences. “We believe there’s convincing evidence that food insecurity is associated with a broad range of negative affects,” Dr. Casey said. “It’s worthy of doctors paying attention to it.”

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Beginning this summer, Arkansas Children’s Hospital started to screen for food insecurity at its primary care clinic. “About 20 percent of the families that come into the clinic are reporting problems with food or access to food,” Dr. Casey said. To counteract this, the hospital has implemented action steps to help children and families.

Dr. Casey began working alongside hospital leadership and the USDA to coordinate serving free meals to children during hospital and clinic visits throughout the year. Thus far, ACH has provided more than 40,000 free lunches to its patients.

This is a relatively new concept, and ACH is the first hospital in the nation to serve free meals year-round in partnership with the USDA, paving the way for other hospitals to do the same. The USDA hopes to implement similar programs at hospitals nationwide, and doctors have reached out to ACH and Dr. Casey to learn how to replicate the program at their hospitals.

Along with meal service, Arkansas Children’s Hospital combats food insecurity in other ways. It has implemented Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters, which provides education on preparing healthy, affordable meals. These courses are offered to ACH patients and employees. Patients’ families can also get assistance applying for federal nutrition programs. And, working alongside the area health department, ACH now has a Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) office on its campus, allowing families the convenience to apply for or renew benefits while they are at the hospital.

Dr. Casey said that the hospital has wanted to offer a food pantry but is limited due to space. Because of this, the hospital has partnered with a nearby food pantry to provide food to its patients’ families. It is also working with a local church to develop a mobile food pantry that it hopes to launch later this year. Additionally, ACH now has a community garden on its grounds, maintained by AmeriCorps members, and an ACH faculty member and research nutritionist will help develop education opportunities around the garden.

“I think [these programs] are a reflection of what we, at a hospital, can do to address food security,” Dr. Casey said.

Dr. Casey and Arkansas Children’s Hospital illustrate the impact the medical community can have on food insecurity. Through their research and programs, they are highlighting the issue of childhood hunger in our country while simultaneously combating it, ensuring children are healthy and nutritiously fed. We’re inspired by their work and hope other hospitals and doctors take similar steps to fight childhood hunger in their communities.

Post by: Ashley Yeaman, Social Media & Communications Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative