Hunger is the feeling we get around mealtime that we can easily solve by eating. Food insecurity, on the other hand, is when we do not have the resources available to alleviate hunger or access meals. Food insecurity affects thousands of people in Senate District 19, and our most vulnerable, children and the elderly, experience the highest rates of food insecurity.
Schools have become the largest source of meals for many children. As you can imagine, when students feel pangs of hunger, it becomes difficult for them to engage and learn in the classroom. Students from low-income families can receive free or reduced price school meals through government programs. Additionally, some school districts with especially large populations of qualifying students make it easier for families and students by participating in programs (i.e. Community Eligibility Provision) that allow all students to have free lunch.
In the 85th Legislative Session, the legislature passed Senate Bill 725, which allows schools to donate food to a nonprofit organization that is directly affiliated with the school in order to provide no cost meals or snacks to students unable to purchase the food. Senator Uresti was glad to support this legislation. Additionally, legislators passed a bill to end "lunch shaming", which requires schools to provide a grace period for students who have an insufficient account balance.
Senator Uresti is encouraged by successful programs in SD19 that help all students to access nutritious meals each day. Uvalde Consolidated School District, for example, has partnered with Southwest Food Excellence to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students. The district also began a breakfast-in-classroom initiative, a creative approach to increase the number of students eating breakfast at school. The breakfast-in-classroom approach keeps children from missing breakfast if they do not arrive early enough, diminishes the stigma of eating breakfast at school, and fixes the lack of awareness about school breakfast options.
Unfortunately, students no longer access these resources over breaks and holidays. So, Medina County has begun a Weekenders for Children program, in which volunteers provide students with a grocery bag of healthy foods before they leave on Fridays.
Due to these initiatives, teachers have reported higher attendance, energy, and better behavior in the classroom, a lesson showing that sometimes the issues our students face are deeper than a bad night's sleep. We can all work to prevent food insecurity, whether by volunteering or by encouraging and supporting our schools to take steps to reduce childhood hunger.