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Summer hunger and how you can help

Today, the EAGLE ran a story about food insecurity in Lafayette County, after a study released by Feeding America showed some surprising statistics.

The study named Mississippi the hungriest state, with 600,840 citizens – 176,580 of them children – struggling with food insecurity. In other words, a whopping one in five Mississippians don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Lafayette County’s statistics aren’t much better, with 9,850 people considered food-insecure. 56 percent of the population lives below the SNAP threshold.

Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time.

Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.

No parent should ever have to choose between providing a meal for their children or paying for basic needs. After reading all these statistics, I had to stop and ask myself, what have I done to help those people? What has the individual Oxonian done to help these people?

I say it often, and proudly, that the LOU community is one of the most generous I’ve ever seen. People here have a heart for philanthropy, and the money to support various causes.

Organizations like Interfaith Compassion Ministries, the Pantry, Lovepacks, Oxford Community Market, the Summer Meals program, various churches and on-campus groups work tirelessly to help those who may be in need. Others do so in secret, expecting no recognition, or simply volunteer their time.

When I spoke to Oxford School District’s director of child nutrition, Dan Westmoreland, I asked him, ‘What can the average person do to help the Summer Meal Program?’ His answer was simple: if you know a child in need, bring them. No strings attached, just give a child access to a healthy, balanced meal.  

Food insecurity is its most prevalent during the summer months. With school out, children might only get one meal a day, not exactly enough to provide them with the energy they need to function.

Westmoreland’s suggestion led me to dig a little deeper and figure out warning signs for determining if a child is dealing with summer hunger. According to the YMCA’s national website, there are five telltale signs a child may be starving.

Some are more obvious, like if a child asks about food every day or if they’re not picky. Hoarding snacks or suddenly gaining or losing weight are also red flags. Others, however, require a little more perception. If a child’s teeth are decaying, it may be an indicator that the child has an inadequate diet. If they’re aggressive towards others or have a reputation as a bully, they may simply be “hangry” (hungry and angry). If they’re tired, or seem to have no energy, they could be going to bed with an empty stomach.

If you do know of a child or family who’s going hungry, there are ways to help directly. On a grand scale, you can organize a canned food drive or start a community garden. On a smaller, more personal scale, you can spread the word about programs available, or simply invite a friend over for dinner. Even clipping coupons for families in need can be the difference between going hungry and having a decent meal.

My hope is, in sharing these facts with readers, at least one child, one family, will receive the help they need. You might only be this child’s Sunday school teacher, their camp counselor, their neighbor, their babysitter. But you could also be the one person to take notice and do something to help.