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Published: Friday, 2/22/2002

Report: 1 in 6 Ohio children go hungry

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Youngsters leave with breakfast from the Kitchen for the Poor in Toledo's central city. Youngsters leave with breakfast from the Kitchen for the Poor in Toledo's central city.
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The day breaks cold and colorless as four young boys stroll up to the door of the Kitchen for the Poor in Toledo's central city.

They walk away minutes later munching on bananas and powdered donuts. Raymond Savage watches them, shakes his head. “There are a lot of hungry kids in this town,” said the Kitchen's deliveryman. “People don't want to believe it? Tell them to come down here.”

According to a report released yesterday by the Children's Hunger Alliance, one out of six children in Ohio is hungry or at risk of being hungry every day. The only meal for many is the federally funded lunch they receive at school, according to the nonprofit group.

“We're not talking starvation,” said Marilyn Sesler, public education director of the Alliance, formerly known as the Ohio Hunger Task Force. “But we're talking chronic and intermittent hunger.”

Because it's difficult to quantify hunger, the Alliance bases its assumptions on poverty levels from U.S. Census reports. According to the Census, more than 15 percent of Ohio's children live below the federal poverty level.

“We know that poverty and hunger often go together,” Ms. Sesler said.

Even more frustrating is that the resources from the federal government exist to feed those children, but the dollars don't reach them, according to the Alliance.

One reason for the gap is that a daunting bureaucracy discourages some parents from applying for social services, Ms. Sesler said.

Another reason is that while almost every Ohio school provides federally funded lunches, fewer than half provide breakfast through the same program.

In Ohio, 428,536 children live in poverty, but only 167,445 received free and reduced-price breakfasts in school during the 1999-2000 school year.

If the state were to increase participation by just more than 5 percent, it could draw an additional $4.6 million to feed an additional 23,540 children, according to the report.

Likewise, 19,381 Lucas County children live in poverty, but only 5,613 children received free and reduced-cost school breakfasts in the same school year, even though its largest school district, Toledo Public Schools, offers the breakfast program. If the county were to increase the breakfast program participation by just more than 9 percent, it could draw another $104,725 to feed another 530 children, according to the report.

The problem is even worse in the summer when schools aren't available to serve the meals. During July, 2000, only 55,652 of Ohio's children were served lunches through federal feeding programs, according to the report.

That leaves plenty of children looking for lunch elsewhere, said Juanita Savage Person, the executive director of the Kitchen for the Poor, 650 Vance St.

Ms. Person said the normal daily lunch crowd of 150 to 200 adults in the winter will balloon to more than 300 children and adults this summer. “For some of these kids, this is their only meal of the day,” she said.

Sometimes, their parents - usually mothers - don't have the money for basic needs not covered by food stamp credits, so they illegally sell their credits to pay for those things. “You know, we don't think of all the things that food stamps don't pay for: soap, laundry detergent, [personal hygiene products],” Ms. Person said. “Sometimes it's a matter of trying to pay for food and keep their children clean.”

Sometimes too a parent sells the children's food stamp assistance for a quick high on drugs and “the children are left to foot it for themselves when it comes to food,” Ms. Person said.

At Lucas County Children Services, health services supervisor Marsha Brown says it's not so much hungry, but unhealthy, children who arrive at the agency.

The youngsters consume soda pop and junk food rather than healthy meals, she said.

“They're not getting the nutrition they need, but they're not going to bed hungry,” she said.

It's these things that prompted Tony Siebeneck to establish the Feed Lucas County Children, Inc., a fledgling nonprofit hoping to set up a feeding program this summer.

Mr. Siebeneck said fund raising is difficult, in part, because it's tough to convince people that local families are without food.

But he refuses to back down, saying that skepticism must not be held against the county's youngest citizens.

“They depend on the adults of this world,” he said. “They have to accept what's dealt to them.”



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