Breakfast is a critical start to any child’s day. It’s the fuel they need to be ready to learn.
In the United States, childhood hunger affects one in six Americans. The problem is worse when the focus is on North Carolina, where childhood hunger affects one in four children under the age of 18.
It’s an issue that Shayla Holeman, principal at Eastway Elementary in Durham, hopes to combat. Holeman says it’s important for kids to have breakfast before school.
“Children cannot learn if they are not nourished. So how can you focus and learn math if you’re hungry?” Holeman said.
It’s something Holeman sees too often at her school.
Eastway Elementary is a Title One school. That means the school receives federal funding to provide support for low-income students.
Holeman said many of the families with children attending Eastway struggle to make ends meet.
“That’s painful; I have children that cry; I have children that cannot learn,” she said.
Along with child hunger, food insecurity is also a threat to North Carolina families. Food insecurity is when there’s limited access to food inside a home.
Holeman says confronting both child hunger and food insecurity is a priority at Eastway. Every school day morning, a hot and healthy breakfast is delivered right inside the classroom. Lunch is also free.
Teachers at Eastway say the food does make a difference.
“I’ve noticed a lot of behavior problems are reduced, students are more focused, especially in the morning as we’re getting ready for our lessons,’ said Deborah Brown, kindergarten teacher at Eastway Elementary.
Unfortunately, school may be the only place a child gets a warm meal, and that’s a problem.
“So if they eat breakfast, that may be the first bit of food they’ve had since they had lunch yesterday at school,” said Tamara Baker, with NoKidHungry North Carolina.
To make the free school meals happen and to make parents aware, Eastway works hand in hand with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, as well as other federal programs and non-profits like NoKidHungry.
It’s not just adults that want to fight childhood hunger.
Kate Yeisley, 8, was surprised to hear about kids, just like her, going hungry in North Carolina. She knew she had to do something, even something as small as selling cookies for a dollar each.
“I want to help hungry kids,” she said.
She raised more than $200 to donate to the cause. Yeisley’s mother, Laina, realizes everyone in the community needs to help out if they want to fight childhood hunger.
“They’re probably right in our backyard, kids we play with, kids we’re friends with. So it hits close to home, the numbers were really surprising,” Yeisley said.
Kids who eat free school breakfast and lunches miss fewer school days and they average higher math test scores by 17.5 percent, and are 20 percent more likely to graduate.
High school graduates earn $10,000 more a year than non-graduates and are less likely to repeat the cycle of poverty.
“Our children are critical because they’re learning, their bodies are growing, food affects their health, their performance, their bodies in every way,” said Baker
Only 17 percent of kids who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches also get summer meals, according to NoKidHungry NC. Baker wants more families to understand there’s help available. She also wants people to donate to their local food banks year round.
To donate food and other resources, please visit the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, North Carolina Association of Feeding America Food Banks and NoKidHungry.