This post is part of the Hunger-Free Summer program sponsored by ConAgra Foods and in conjunction with theMotherhood.
I was blessed growing up. Although I was one of five children, I never knew hunger. My dad had a very good job, my mom was an excellent cook who stayed at home for much of my childhood, we had a huge vegetable garden and even though my mom didn’t believe in “junk food” there was always plenty to eat.
I just assumed it was that way for everyone.
Sure, I vaguely knew that some kids got a reduced lunch. As I got older I saw that some families lived in smaller houses, or didn’t seem to have many new clothes. . . but it didn’t really sink in. I just assumed that most folks lived more or less like we did. The idea that kids I knew, kids I went to school with might not have enough to eat at home just never crossed my mind.
I don’t know when that changed, when I was able to look back at my childhood through the lens of maturity and realize that poverty and hunger wasn’t just something that happened in the bad neighborhoods of cities far away, but something that could be quietly happening in my own back yard. I wish I could say it was a blinding revelation–after all that would make a better story. It wasn’t. It was just the kind of understanding that slowly builds until you recognize a truth without even noticing the journey to get there.
In America 21.5 million kids rely on free or reduced-price meals during the school year. In the summer only 2.3 Million children participate in Summer food Service Programs–meaning 19.2 million kids are food insecure in the summer.
I think it’s important to know that. Important not to be complacent in our own security–to look around us and see the need of others. Personally I’m a Christian and I see it as part of my moral duty not only to be grateful and thankful for what I have, but also to give out of that blessing to others in need. As a mother I feel the need of children is especially poignant. When my family, my children are secure–how can I help but feel moved by those who are not?
After taking care of my children’s safety, I see my most important job as a parent is to raise my kids to be thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate people. To be compassionate I think they must recognize and be grateful for the blessings in their lives. One of the ways we do this is to have the kids list all the things they are grateful for each day at the end of their prayers. No item is too small. I believe that by repeatedly reminding them of their blessings they will internalize and believe it–and I have noticed that my children seem very aware of and grateful for those things.
The other side of that coin is to have the children realize that others may not be as lucky or blessed. With that realization comes a responsibility to do what we can to help those less fortunate. This of course must be done in an age appropriate way. When they were small we talked in a very general way about helping and giving to those “in need”. As they have gotten older we have been able to have more detailed discussions–about why Mom volunteers at the food pantry, why we give money at church, why we give food and donate toys and clothes at the holidays, and yes, even why some of the kids at school might get free lunches. They’ve heard our church talking about the backpack program it helped start locally to send food home with children over the weekends. They know the free mornings summer camp the town runs in July (that both kids have attended) now has a free breakfast.
Kids watch and emulate their parents–the old “do as I say, not as I do” has never been an effective method–we have been able to use real life examples of both ourselves and others “doing” all around us to talk to our kids about the reality of childhood hunger. And because of this campaign I’ve had a few even more pointed conversations about hunger in our local community. Talked about the kids who don’t pay for lunch, and what they might be eating during the summer. Watching the “Child Hunger Ends Here” video was a great conversation starter there.