Hunger and their health: New study shows how food insecurity affects children of all ages

Chopped fresh carrots and broccoli

When I was a reporter at the Amarillo Globe-News, I had a few opportunities to interview Dyron Howell, the founder of Snack Pak 4 Kids. The program provides weekend bags of food to school children throughout the Texas Panhandle who may otherwise go without eating during the days they’re away from school.

One of the things I always remember from our conversations is the way hunger affects a child’s physical and mental health, and his or her ability to concentrate and learn. For a child who is chronically hungry, hunger becomes the leading force and cause of all he or she does.

Science Daily gives a decent breakdown of the research completed by the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, where researchers studied the associations between food insecurity and how children may adversely develop when it comes to academic performance, social behaviors and mental health.

The information shows that hunger doesn’t just affect a child’s stomach – it spills over into all aspects of a child’s life.

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Snack Pak 4 Kids: Ending weekend hunger, one child at a time

If you want to know what awesome looks like, all you have to do is look at the people behind Snack Pak 4 Kids.

Today, they posted a #TBT photo on Facebook:

The program actually started with just 10 children at Will Rogers Elementary School in Dyron and Kelly Howell’s kitchen. As the post above says, they now serve many, many more than that.

I’ve been fortunate enough to write a few stories about SP4K. Each time I go out to an event, whether it be the corn harvest and distribution they’ve done the past two years, or a night of pak-packing, I’ve been overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed by the number of people that donate their time, overwhelmed by the amount of food and monetary donations that the program receives, and overwhelmed by all of the other examples of generosity, big and small, here in our own community.

I’m also overwhelmed by the reactions evident on the faces of those receiving the snack paks and fresh, sweet corn. I’ve taken pictures at the last two distribution events after the corn harvest and each time, as my emotions threaten to spill over, I know there’s no place I’d rather be.

It hits me so hard because I know exactly what’s behind those smiles and shouts and laughs. My heart clenches because I remember feeling that same joy. Years ago, my brother, sister and I WERE these children.

Two of my favorite photos from the first SP4K corn distribution event. Read the story here.

Two of my favorite photos from the first SP4K corn distribution event. Read the story here.

As I’ve mentioned before, my mom has been a single parent for nearly all my life. When we were younger, I can’t think of any time we went hungry, but I know there were times when my mom went without so us kids would have a meal.

As hard as my mom worked, money always was tight, and so things like new toys, new clothes and stuff like brand-name cereal just weren’t on the list of items that came into our house very often. It doesn’t seem like any of those would make a big impact, but if you’ve gone without, you know how much of a hit it can make on morale.

SP4K wasn’t around then, but other people and agencies, like Eveline Rivers, the Salvation Army and the food pantry at our church, not only made it possible for us to get by – they gave us something we, as kids, could call our own. They gave us something to look forward to.

SP4k does the same thing. They take a child’s memory of weekend hunger and replace it with a bright spot to look forward to each week. They take away the stress of the unknown and and fill the space with food security in the form of snack paks. They take away the distraction of an empty belly on Monday mornings and give them a way to succeed in the classroom.

By believing in these children, children who have no fault for their situation, they do more than just show they care. They give them a reason to believe in themselves. They give them hope. They give them faith.

They give them a future.

Check them out at http://snackpak4kids.org/ and see for yourself just how awesome they really are.