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Published: Saturday, 6/10/2006

Hungry children live right here

BY ROSE RUSSELL

SO MUCH has happened this week that demands our attention. But it might surprise you to know that there are hungry children living in your neighborhood. Yes, that includes you who also live in some of the better neighborhoods in Lucas County.

According to the Children's Hunger Alliance, one in six Ohioans - that's half a million youngsters - under age 18 is described as hungry or faces the risk of being hungry. I'm not talking about children and teenagers who haven't had a meal in several hours and want to eat.

This is about children whose homes do not have enough food in the refrigerators or cupboards, kids whose families are unable for whatever reason to provide three, or even two, healthy nourishing meals a day for everyone in the household.

It's about children who may be eating but whose diet includes junk food and potato chips.

It's also about children who may get a good, healthy meal today, but won't get another one for days.

When most of us talk about being hungry, we're describing a temporary annoyance. That's when we experience some discomfort and maybe some stomach grumbling that lets anyone nearby know that we skipped breakfast.

But for children who genuinely go hungry, there is the Children's Hunger Alliance. Its mission: stamp out hunger in Ohio.

One way it tries to do that is to provide a safety net for children who fit any number of descriptions of hunger. Most of us are familiar with the federal school breakfast and lunch programs that provide meals for children in the school year.

Hunger, however, doesn't know a school calendar. Thousands of Ohio children also endure what the children's hunger experts call "food insecurity" in the summer. That's why there's a Summer Food Service Program, too.

In Lucas County during the 2004-05 school year, 18,500 low-income children took part in school lunch programs. However, last July, only 2,300 children received meals in the summer program. So more than 16,200 other children who could have received meals from the federal food service program didn't.

Interestingly, the situation is the same in other counties, with more children obtaining school meals during the year. However, although they are eligible, they are not getting federal meals in the summertime. In Wood County, for instance, where 2,700 children took part in the school lunch program, only 133 received summer meals.

Why is that? Two reasons: One, too few parents and children are aware that federal food service is available in summer. Two, sometimes there are not enough groups willing to provide the food service, even though they are reimbursed for the food served and operating costs.

While the latter seems to be a decreasing concern since the list of locations where children can obtain a federal meal this summer is growing, the former remains an issue. More people need to know where children can obtain a meal. There are many sites in Lucas County where any child can go for food, and no youngster has to show identification or other qualification. All they have to do is show up to eat.

There are numerous sites throughout the state. But judging from the number of hungry Ohio children, it wouldn't hurt to have more groups provide meals for children during the summer.

Most sites expect to be operating by the middle of this month, and most certainly by the end of June. The easiest way to find a site in your neighborhood and whether it's serving meals is to call the Children's Hunger Alliance's Summer Meal Program meal locator line, at 1-800-481-6885. Follow the easy instructions and then put in your ZIP Code using the telephone key pad. You will be told how many sites are in your area, their addresses, and telephone numbers.

And while there are many children described as hungry throughout all of Toledo's neighborhoods, hungry children also live in the suburbs, including Perrysburg, Holland, and Sylvania.

Hunger truly knows no address, wouldn't you agree?



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