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The Impact of Hunger in the Classroom

In the United States, an estimated nine million children will struggle with food insecurity this back-to-school season. Families who were already facing food insecurity are now finding it even harder to cope. Food costs at the grocery store continue to rise. Meanwhile, the recent cut to SNAP benefits has left families and kids with an even more limited budget.

Back to School Downloadables

Going back to school is expensive, especially as prices continue to rise and SNAP benefits decrease. Feed the Children helps families by providing food and supplies for back-to-school needs.

Feed the Children helps school districts nationwide by providing resources for teachers, reducing their personal expenses.

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How Hunger Affects Learning FAQ

In the United States, an estimated nine million children will struggle with food insecurity this back-to-school season. Families who were already facing food insecurity are now finding it even harder to cope. Food costs at the grocery store continue to rise. Meanwhile, the recent cut to SNAP benefits has left families and kids with an even more limited budget.

Proper nutrition and food security have a tremendous impact on a child’s ability to learn.

Without staples like a healthy diet and adequate sleep, hungry students experience negative effects on their cognitive development. This can affect a child’s academic performance. It can be harder for them to understand lessons, and they are less likely to retain what they’ve learned.

They will also lack the energy and focus to make it through the school day. Children who lack nutrition experience more health problems overall. This is due to a weakened immune system, which causes more frequent illnesses. As a result, they miss more school, creating gaps in their learning and causing them to fall behind.

Food insecurity is a problem for millions of Americans, including parents. This means they lack reliable access to enough food. Children in food-insecure families are more likely to miss dinner the night before school or go to school without breakfast. They may not get to eat until lunchtime, if they participate in a School Meal Program.

There are many reasons why parents might struggle to provide enough food. Family emergencies, chronic health conditions, bills, and the overall increased cost of living all take a bite out of a family’s food budget. Early in 2023, SNAP benefits, which had been increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, were significantly reduced. Families with children lost an average of $233 in benefits every month. When the new school year begins, parents must spend more money on clothing, school supplies, and other necessities that can make affording enough food a challenge.

The School Meal Program consists of two initiatives. Their purpose is to assist children from low-income families who struggle with hunger while in school.

The National School Lunch Program provides nutritious, free or reduced-price lunches to children during school. According to the USDA, 30 million children participate in the program across 97,000 schools and establishments.

The School Breakfast Program provides a nutritious meal each morning throughout the school year. The USDA reports that 15 million children take part in the program. Those who take part receive a higher quality breakfast than those who eat breakfast elsewhere.

Children need consistent access to enough food for normal growth and development and to live an active and healthy life. The National School Lunch Program, which provides low-cost or free lunches to eligible children in participating schools, plays a powerful role in the fight to end child hunger.

However, not all eligible children receive meals through the program. This could be because their school does not participate in the program, because of a lack of awareness about the program, or because of other barriers to completing the required enrollment paperwork. In addition, meals provided at school are typically only available on weekdays when school is in session: not on weekends, school holidays, or times of unexpected school closures.

Feed the Children and our network of school and community partners work to fill these gaps and ensure children have consistent access to meals throughout the year. We also provide essential household and personal care items to help alleviate financial burdens and stretch family budgets farther.

Back-to-school season is an exciting time to kick off the program at participating school districts. Through our School Resource Room Program, Feed the Children partners with Title 1 schools to provide children access to food, essential household and personal care items, school supplies and books. Title I is a federal program that helps schools meet the educational needs of students living near or at poverty levels.

The School Resource Room program is designed to be flexible and meet the unique needs of each school and its community. Some schools distribute the products through drive-through distribution events in the evenings and others distribute them via a grocery store model, offering families to shop for the specific products they need.

Another initiative is our Backpack Build Program. Employees of our dedicated corporate partners pack backpacks with food, school supplies and essential personal care items. Schools and community partners then distribute the backpacks discreetly to children at risk of hunger. Providing resources like these helps ensure that kids have the fuel and supplies they need for a great school year.

Caregivers with limited options for earning a living can struggle to keep enough food on the table for their children. Lack of reliable transportation to access the food resources available is another barrier families can face.

Some low-income communities lack stores that sell affordable food, presenting a challenge even for families that do have reliable transportation. Lack of awareness of resources is another reason; caregivers may not be aware of the nutrition assistance programs available to their children, may not understand the eligibility requirements, or may not know how to enroll in the programs.

Children are more likely to be food-insecure if they are in a household headed by a single mother, if they live in a rural county, if they have a disabled parent, and if they are members of a community of color.

Feed the Children and our partners are fighting hard to create a world where no child goes to bed hungry, on a school day or any day of the year.

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