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Hunger Prevents Learning in Local Children

By Bridget Welch, LMT

Right here in the greater Tallahassee area many children just beginning elementary school are having trouble concentrating and falling asleep in class because they are not getting enough to eat. The average poverty rate in Florida is about 14 percent. In the Big Bend region, the poverty rate is about 20 percent!

“We’re trying to shine the light on hunger as an epidemic,” says Jessica N. Jackson, Development Director of Second Harvest. Second Harvest has programs to feed the hungry of all ages in their 11 county service area.

In an interview with Tallahassee Democrat in 2012, Second Harvest’s former Development Director Paul Clements explained that when children come to school after a weekend without food, it takes them a couple days of eating the school’s free breakfast and lunch programs before they are caught up and ready to learn.

Second Harvest’s Backpack Program bridges the gap for children on the public school’s free lunch program, providing meals at home over the weekend. Second Harvest forms partnerships with non-profits like PTAs to help the “food insecure” by providing one backpack of food per individual child for him/her to eat over the weekend.

Second Harvest provides not just food, but nutritious food. Everything is subject to a sorting process, determining what is healthy and safe to eat. For the Backpack Program, Second Harvest thoughtfully combines food bought with monetary donations, properly labeled donated foods, breads from bakeries, and produce from local farms, home gardens, and Second Harvest’s own garden, to pack a bag full of nutritious choices for the young student. Selections are as nutritious as possible. Child Nutrition Program Coordinator Rachel Mohler has a Master’s degree in dietetics, and her child nutritionist has a Bachelor’s degree in dietetics. At the end of the year, Second Harvest surveys students, their parents, and teachers about how this program helped.

The Backpack Program is only privately funded, and needs help. As Jackson says, “The program does a lot, but has the opportunity to do so much more.” To feed one child all school year—$5 per backpack each Friday—costs about $200. Second Harvest funds sponsor three schools in Leon County, but would like to expand to cover all 10 schools in Leon County where 100 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch program! They are actively searching for donors.

Monetary funds for backpacks are very helpful. Second Harvest, as a non-profit, has access to better deals on food than the average citizen buying food to donate. So, you get more bang for your donated buck…but, of course they take food donations as well.

Individuals and organizations can call Rachel Mohler at 850-562-3033 to donate to a specific school or to the whole Backpack Program. When donating by check, write a school name in the memo line or simply write “backpacks.” You may also donate online or at the Co-op. Cashiers will be taking donations for Second Harvest at the registers Friday, November 8-Thursday, November 21. New Leaf Market Co-op will match all donations dollar for dollar, which means that your $10 donation becomes a $20 donation. Everything helps.

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