…”food insecurity” affects 207,000 children in Maryland who live in homes where healthy, nutritious food is not consistently and readily accessible.
Nearly everyone across the political spectrum agrees with the goal of ending childhood hunger.
“We can spend all day thinking of things we believe differently, but I have yet to meet the person who is pro-hunger,'” said Robert Hahn, pastor of Chesapeake Church in Huntingtown.
The church hosted the Governor’s Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland’s annual Southern Maryland Hunger Summit: Outreach to Faith-based Leaders on Monday, Nov. 8.
The summit, held in collaboration with Share Our Strength and the Local Management Boards of Calvert, St. Mary’s, Charles and Anne Arundel counties, brought together 105 leaders of local, faith-based organizations to learn about the resources communities can use to help end childhood hunger in the region.
Though many think of hunger as unlikely in America, and envision hungry children as the malnourished victims of Third World famine, drought and unrest, the partnership’s focus is on children here in local communities, dealing with the less dramatic but still damaging effects of “food insecurity.”
Anne Sheridan, Maryland director for Share Our Strength, a national organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger, cited SOS surveys which indicated that 52 percent of Maryland teachers report having students who arrive at school hungry each week students who are not ready to concentrate, learn or play because they are not getting necessary nutrition.
“Our goal is to end childhood hunger,” Sheridan said, “not just feed more kids.”
With pledges from President Barack Obama and Gov. Martin O’Malley to end childhood hunger by 2015, Sheridan saw that goal as within reach, if local organizations were willing to take charge.”We need to start building more local leadership,” Sheridan said. “Everyone has a strength to share, and churches and faith-based organizations are a logical place to start.”
Sheridan encouraged leaders to sponsor a food distribution site, encourage conversation among their congregation on the need to end childhood hunger in the community, boost enrollment by eligible families and work to reduce the stigma attached to supplemental food programs, all in an effort to “be a community that cares about ending childhood hunger.”
Though programs are in place to provide free and reduced-price meals and snacks at schools, community centers and camps, Sheridan called attention to several roadblocks to access to those programs: stigma about relying on government aid, lack of awareness of the program or who qualifies, inadequate facilities and transportation, and bureaucratic red tape.
Rosemary King Johnston, executive director for the Governor’s Office for Children, said “food insecurity” affects 207,000 children in Maryland who live in homes where healthy, nutritious food is not consistently and readily accessible. Those children can be helped by local and state programs, many of which are well-funded through the federal government, so that all children can grow and learn.
“The federal food programs are huge and amazing, and if we don’t use them the money just sits in Washington,” Johnston said. “I’m sorry, but I’ve never seen a dollar I don’t want in Maryland, feeding these kids.”
Recent modifications to the Maryland Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other programs make more families who have been struggling to make ends meet eligible for assistance. A new, online application system through the Maryland Department of Human Resources enables families to apply for a variety of services with a single application.
Suzanne Diggs, a food stamp policy specialist and trainer, demonstrated the Service Access and Information Link found at www.marylandsail.org. Since clients can choose to apply online, qualified applicants can receive their benefits faster than in the past.
Diggs explained that regulations enacted last month allow families to qualify for some services even if they still have assets such as a car or a savings account, so long as the family’s gross income is 200 percent of the poverty level or less.
The change encourages clients to build a financial cushion, which in turn can reduce future needs.
“It’s not just to pull you out of the ditch,” Hahn said. “We want to fill the ditch in behind you so you never fall back in again.”
The summit concluded with county-by-county breakout sessions where leaders discussed the specific needs of their areas and how to meet them, whether through meal programs, food pantries, financial seminars, free tax preparation assistance or other offerings that fit the community.
For more information, visit the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland at <a href=”http://www.nokidhungrymd.org” target=”_blank”>www.nokidhungrymd.org</a>.
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By CHRIS BASHAM