By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee
As the nation looks forward to the celebration of Thanksgiving, for many families it’s another day with very little food in their kitchens. Three years after the onset of the financial and economic crisis, hunger remains high in the United States. This crisis that erupted in 2008 caused a dramatic increase in hunger in this country. This high level of hunger continued in 2010, according to the latest government report (with the most recent statistics) released in September 2011 by a study done by Coleman-Jensen.
As an educator all my adult life, I have witnessed families in need of food and remember visiting a family before Thanksgiving with our guidance councilor. We brought the family bags of food and when I asked the mother where I could place the food she told me to just leave it in the kitchen for they didn’t have a refrigerator and shared one with the person on the second floor. We need to remember that all students do not step off the bus in the morning with the same advantages. The truth is that many of our students are faced with hardships and hunger.
Another family that I visited I brought a gallon of milk as part of the food basket. The child turned to her mother and said wow now we can have milk for the weekend! Poverty is real in this community but so many community members have no idea that it exists. Schools and community agents continue to reach out and assist the many families that they know about. For example, students at South High Community School have over 177 known homeless teens. South High’s Principal Maureen Binienda, not only addresses the academic needs of her students, but their physical and emotional needs. She has established a food pantry for needy students at the school. Students in need stop by the Health Center after school and pick up an ordinary school backpack and fill it with food.
Thanks to the Federal Government, students who qualify for free and reduced lunch are fed a breakfast and lunch in the schools. The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children from low income families. In 2008 the program reached 30.5 million children. Children are from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level. (For the period July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, 130 percent of the poverty level is $28,665 for a family of four; 185 percent is $40,793.) Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of poverty pay a full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some extent by the program. Program cost was $9.3 billion in 2008. In Worcester seventy percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Another program that has assisted families in need is the Food Stamp Program, the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, helps roughly 40 million low-income Americans to afford a nutritionally adequate diet. More than 75 percent of all food stamp participants are in families with children; nearly one-third of participants are elderly people or people with disabilities. Unlike most means-tested benefit programs, which are restricted to particular categories of low-income individuals, the Food Stamp Program is broadly available to almost all households with low incomes. These programs are fundamental to nourish children and to aid in their success in school by meeting their most basic needs.
Important research began back in 1943 a psychologist named Abraham Maslow who first introduced his concept of a hierarchy of needs in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” and his subsequent book, Motivation and Personality. This hierarchy suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other needs.
The very first need was the physiological needs of individuals. These include the most basic needs that are vital to survival, such as the need for water, air, food and sleep. Maslow believed that these needs are the most basic and instinctive needs in the hierarchy because all needs become secondary until these physiological needs are met. Yet we have individuals in this community who don’t believe that poverty has an impact on learning. However, what we do know is that the way out of poverty is through education but we still need to meet the physiological needs of the student. This can only happen if communities partner with schools to better the lives of the nation’s most precious resource, our children.
So as the Thanksgiving holiday rolls in think about what you can do the assist families in need …