October 27, 2020

The Arkansas Foodbank released Map the Meal Gap in 2018.  This was just the latest report by Feeding America on food insecurity throughout the state.  The “Map” revealed food insecurity exists in every county in Foodbank’s service area and that food insecurity affects the most vulnerable populations in central and southern Arkansas.  This includes 78,000 children (23.2%).  Overall food insecurity in Arkansas is 515,000 people (17.2%), or second worst in the country, while overall child food insecurity is 164,000 children (23.2%) or third worst in the country.  The study went on to find, on average, the food insecure are needing $43 more per month to buy just enough food to meet their needs.

For some students, whose families experience food insecurity or hunger the only consistent meals they receive may be the breakfast and lunch served at school.  As a result, many students experience hunger during school breaks, closures, and weekends (or pandemics).   Every weekend, the Feeding America BackPack Program works with over 160 local food banks to provide bags of food to more than 450,000 children.  These bags contain nutritious and easy to prepare foods and ensure that children have enough to eat when they do not have access to free or reduced-price meals at school.

According to the non-profit Hunger Free Colorado, the first backpack program started in 1995 in Little Rock, Arkansas.  A school nurse observed that many of the students who came to her were feeling sick or tired because they were hungry and did not have enough to eat at home.  She joined forces with her local food bank to launch a program that provided bags with food for children to take home for over the weekend.  Since then, food pantries and food banks across the country have begun their own backpack programs to feed hungry children.  Many Arkansas school districts are now participating in weekend backpack programs.

𝗧𝗛𝗢𝗨𝗚𝗛𝗧𝗦:  Several studies have found the BackPack programs result in an ability for food insecure families to become food secure.  They also found improved academic performance for students enrolled, improved attendance (particularly on Friday’s when food is distributed), and a raise in self-esteem.  The picture represents the 60+ backpack fills for our community for one weekend, while the Arkansas Foodbank augments families.  The Meal Gap statistics quoted above are two years old, and prior to the pandemic.  The situation has gotten worse rather than better as people across America struggle to find “nutritious” food with dwindling resources.  There are more than 200,000 food insecure children in Arkansas and over 14,000,000 across America.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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