Out of the mouths of babes…

Scott Moody, executive director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC), had this to say yesterday in response to a Portland press event on child hunger:

When you’re running an unprecedented trillion dollar deficit, we have to start taking a step back as a country and be asking ourselves do we really need to be still doing these things.

Seriously? The MHPC wants to take food out of the mouths of hungry children?

Organizers of summer meals for kids held a press event yesterday at the Stone Street playground. As children snacked on fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, and whole grain peanut butter sandwiches, Kevin Concannon, former commissioner of Maine’s Department of Human Services and now undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told reporters why summer is the time of year when children are most likely to go hungry.

Over 80,000 kids in Maine do not get enough to eat. That is more kids than two-and-a-half times the entire population of Washington County, which by the way, is one of the Maine counties with the most number of kids eligible for free lunch based on their parents ability to pay for food for their children.

During the school year, the National School Lunch program, which has been around since the 1940s, helps fill empty stomachs. Yet when the school year ends, many of these kids go without. The federal program provides meals for kids during the summer, but MECEP estimates that only about 10% of meal-eligible students are fed during the summer due to a shortage of distribution sites and lack of transportation to sites in rural parts of Maine.

It’s not for want of trying. The Maine Department of Education, along with others like the Preble Street Resource Center, works with local schools, churches, community recreation programs, and other community groups to set up new summer meal sites. The Maine Hunger Initiative is working to get the word out to parents. Unfortunately, students are still going hungry, especially in the summer.

Hungry children don’t learn as well, their health suffers, and in the long run they are unable to make it in the workplace. A 2009 report by Feeding America found,

The U.S. economy is losing its competitive edge to countries doing a better job of addressing nutrition and food insecurity in preparing children to learn and achieve their full potential.

Food is not the only child support under attack in Maine. This year Governor LePage and Maine lawmakers cut Head Start, children’s health services, and general assistance, Maine’s emergency safety net for families without food or a roof over their head.

Letting children go hungry in the wealthiest nation on earth is unconscionable.