There are 16 million children in the United States who are facing hunger. How many of those kids live in your community? How many of those kids live right next door?
A study released earlier this month by Feeding America, called Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity 2012, gives people the unique opportunity to see how many children face hunger in their community.
The findings are troubling. Unfortunately, there is not a single community in the United States that is free of child hunger. Hunger continues to exist in every county and every congressional district in the nation--even the wealthiest.
That means in places like Santa Barbara County, Calif., a place that is synonymous with upscale vineyards and posh resorts, there are children who do not get enough to eat. In fact, in spite of the luxury associated with that area, nearly one in four children in Santa Barbara County are food insecure.
And in some places -- places that you may never have heard of -- it's even worse. Places where the unemployment hasn't rebounded and tens of thousands of people are out of work. Places like Zavala County, Texas, where almost 50 percent of the children are facing hunger. That means almost half of that county's children aren't getting enough to eat.
It's unthinkable that somewhere in this great country, in these modern times, there is a place where almost half of the kids go hungry.
Child hunger is a serious problem in this nation. We know that hunger can fundamentally alter the trajectory of a child's life. Studies show that hunger affects a child's physical, cognitive and behavioral development. From birth to age 3, chronic under-nutrition is most harmful because proper nourishment is essential to support this critical period of rapid growth. And workers who experience even periodic hunger in childhood may not be as well prepared physically, mentally, emotionally or socially to perform effectively in the contemporary workforce, resulting in a less-competitive worker pool. Workers who experience hunger are more likely to experience health issues that force them to take more sick days to care for themselves or their children.
And the problem is not going to get better for low-income children. As Congress works to balance the budget and reduce our national deficit, the federal nutrition programs that help families cope with a weakened economy are at risk of sever funding cuts--and at a time when the need for those programs are needed more than ever.
Right now, the Farm Bill, which authorizes the funding for critical programs that feed children and adults like SNAP, TEFAP and CSFP, is moving through the Senate. Unfortunately, those programs are at grave risk of budget cuts that would essentially gut the programs, leaving millions of families without the help they need to feed their families.
With children facing hunger in every county and every congressional district in the country, our nation cannot afford to strip away the safety-net that keeps them from going hungry. We must send a message to Congress that they have a responsibility to protect our nation's children.
I urge you to contact your Members of Congress and tell them that they need to protect the programs that help feed our nation's children. Visit the Hunger Action Center and send a message to your elected officials today.
You can also join Feeding America, Rep. Jim McGovern (MA) and other hunger advocates on Monday, June 18 at 1:30 EDT for an important virtual town hall meeting about how we can work together to ensure Congress passes a Farm Bill that puts us on the path to a hunger-free America. Register to join the conversation.
Child hunger has serious implications for our nation. If we want a prosperous future for America, we must make sure that our future generation has the food they need to grow and thrive today.
Follow Vicki B. Escarra on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vickiescarra