This week, the networks of CNY Central are putting the spotlight on child hunger. It is a local issue affecting tens of thousands of kids in our community.
In the 11 counties of Central and Northern New York, 64,490 children are food insecure, meaning they do not know where or when their next meal will be. There are several area programs that are working to combat the problem.
Each afternoon, some 60 kids ages 5 through 12 come to the Hamilton Street Boys and Girls Club in Syracuse for a little exercise, activity time and food. "They teach us about eating healthy. You don't eat junk food, but you eat healthy food," said 6-year-old Tarrisa Williams.
For these kids, it's more than a safe place to come and interact with other children. For many, it is a warm meal filled with protein, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and chocolate milk. It is a meal they might otherwise not get. "They could go without. Our families come from an array of different economic backgrounds," said Chere Petrivelli of the Boys and Girls Club. "We don't know. They might not have food at home, but we know our club members whey they come here, they will have a meal at night, every night."
Working side-by-side with the Boys and Girls Club is the Food Bank of Central New York. Filling hungry bellies is their mission and there are plenty to feed. "It is heartbreaking and particularly for children" said Kathleen Stress, Executive Director of the Food Bank of CNY. "They shouldn't have to be responsible for finding their next meal or worrying about how they're going to eat."
It is all so very personal for Stress who is also a mother. She will never forget the time a child told her...I'm hungry. "It was difficult to hear a child say I didn't eat or I know I'm not going to eat. It was heartbreaking...it's a struggle no child should endure," Stress said.
Hunger is more common than you might think. Locally, hunger exists. The Food Bank's recent Scope of Hunger study found 30 percent of children under the age of 18 account for all emergency food recipients. Nine percent are infants through 5-years-old. 75 percent of client households receive SNAP benefits, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. Among households with school age children, 76 percent participate in the Federal School Lunch Program. "I think what's difficult is no child asks to be hungry and when we see things like the snap cuts that are going to be coming...they really do reduce a family's grocery bill," Stress said.
Thanks to a partnership between the Boys and Girls Club and the Food Bank, these children can play. They can, at least for a moment, forget about life's hassles or hung and have a chance to just be a kid.
This probably leaves you wondering if there is anything you can do. On Friday night, we will share three specific steps you can take to help eliminate hunger in our community. We will also talk to a Syracuse University Professor and international expert on hunger to find out what more can be done.
Also on Friday, CNY Central is teaming up with the Food Bank to stamp out child hunger. We are holding a special Telethon, "The Face of Hunger in Central New York", from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.