“Hunger can be a positive motivator.”
This shocking statement came from Missouri State Representative Cynthia Davis’ June 2009 “Capitol Report” as part of her argument against the Summer Food Service Program. Rep. Davis is Chair of the Missouri House of Representative’s Special Committee on Children and Families, Interim Committee on Poverty & serves on the Health Care Policy Committee, making her a key figure in promoting child health & nutrition in the state.
Rep. Davis has the right idea in promoting farmer’s markets and locally grown, organic produce. These are fantastic programs that allow wider access to healthy foods & sustainability within local farming communities. She also supports educating families on how to prepare healthier meals – which MAZON grantees in the state implement via the Club F.U.N. (Ozarks Food Harvest, Springfield, MO) & The Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry (Jewish Family & Children’s Services, St. Louis, MO) programs. Unfortunately, there are thousands of working Missourian families who cannot afford to shop at farmer’s markets or eat healthy. Rep. Davis is lucky “not to [have] seen this problem in [her] district” (her 19th district encompassing St. Charles County, the wealthiest in the state), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Rep. Davis strongly believes in private food banks & pantries versus public programs, like “what they did when Louisiana had [Hurricane Katrina]”. A charity support system is being stretched to a breaking point in this tough economic climate; Missouri Food Banks such as Ozarks Food Harvest find their donations decrease as demand increases. As President Obama said earlier this year, food banks across the nation “don’t have enough to meet the demand”. The Ozarks Food Harvest Food Bank is able to reach over 41,000 people a month, but over 310,000 households in Missouri are food insecure, with another 118,000 classified as very low food secure (Food Resource Action Center’s State of the States 2008). While these numbers are sobering, the experiences of these hungry Missourians are downright heartbreaking; I encourage you to read these here. These are households at or below the poverty line ($22,050/yr for a family of four), where it becomes a decision between buying healthy food or life-saving medicine; greens for dinner or gas to get to work.
Children are the most vulnerable to this food insecurity. If kids can’t eat, they can’t learn and they can’t grow. Nearly 18% of Missourian children live in poverty (Food Resource Action Center’s State of the States 2008). For many of these children, school breakfasts & lunches are main, not supplemental, sources of nutrition; it isn’t that poor & working parents don’t want to provide nutritious meals, it’s that they can’t afford to. Ozarks Food Harvest and other Food Banks recognize this need through backpack programs so kids can continue to eat over the weekend when they can’t access school programs. Although school may be out for summer, hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation & the Summer Food Service Program is a vital extensions of existing programs. Yet, while over half a million children participate in the National School Lunch Program in Missouri, fewer than 50,000 participate in the Summer Food Service Program.
Beyond the immeasurable loss in child welfare, this lack of participation costs Missouri millions in federal aid. If just 40% of Missouri’s eligible children participate in the Summer Food Service Program, it would net the state an additional $4 million in federal money (Food Resource Action Center’s State of the States 2008). Otherwise, it all has to come from Missouri’s already strained pockets.
Please, Rep. Davis, support healthy kids & working families. Support the Summer Food Service Program in Missouri.
Missouri State Representative Cynthia Davis can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, via phone at 573-751-9768, via fax at 573-526-1243, or via mail at 201 West Capitol Ave. Room 112, Jefferson City, MO 65101. Please be respectful, and identify yourself as a constituent (if you are one). If you’re at a loss for words, feel free to copy & paste any part of this article (that’s what I plan on doing ;)).
(Thanks to Twitter user reeniecollins for pointing us towards Joel Berg of New York City Coalition Against Hunger‘s article about Rep. Davis in the Huffington Post.)