One morning I took a call from a local Elementary School Principal. She was noticeably distraught and explained that there were 3 children from a family in her school in grades 1, 2 and 4, that she was concerned for. The family was at-risk and the children were not thriving. “What does that mean?”, I asked. She struggled with the words, but went on to say, “They are losing weight. They are skin and bone. The family is horribly at-risk and I don’t know where to turn. Is there anything that you can do?”
As the past Executive Director of student nutrition programs in Waterloo Region, I saw first-hand the struggles that families endured in trying to feed their children 365 days-a-year. I would be asked constantly by community members, “who feeds the really hungry kids on the weekends?” And I knew the answer was no one. There is a major gap in the ability of children to consistently access food.
It is hard to believe that in our communities of Waterloo Region and Guelph/Wellington County, there are thousands of kids leaving school on Friday afternoon, without any idea of what, or when their next meal will be.
Most people in our communities would say we live in a fairly affluent community. Statistics show however that “15.6 percent of all children less than 18 years of age are part of a family living with low income.” That represents over 17,000 children and youth throughout Waterloo Region, and almost 13,000 children and youth in Guelph/Wellington.
For many children, hunger isn’t just an occasional missed meal; it is a way of life. Children who live with hunger develop physically and socially at a slower pace than their peers. Chronically hungry children experience higher levels of anxiety, hyperactivity, irritability, and aggression. Chronic hunger results in students with lower attendance rates at school and lower academic performance. Even relatively short-term nutritional deficiencies can negatively impact a child’s health, causing cognitive and developmental damage that prevents them from performing at their full potential.