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Meals to go
I grew up in an Iowa where our family was blessed with a similar income and lifestyle as our neighbors: No one had much. We were farm kids, and our town friends weren't much better off.
A few kids were noticeably poor – their dads were hired farm hands who stayed a year or two and then moved on. I often wonder what happened to those kids.
If they earned good grades, opportunities to attend college in the late 1960s and early 1970s were very good, thanks to federal Pell Grants, state of Iowa grants, and ample work study. Once they joined the job market, I don't doubt they overcame the poverty of their childhood.
My own children grew up in an Iowa where 38% of kids were on free and reduced-price school lunches. My daughters graduated from high school in a United States where many of their classmates are being left behind, as college tuition rises out of reach and grants wither away – leaving huge student loans in their wake.
I'm not wearing rose-colored glasses when I draw this comparison. The Census Bureau reports that 46.2 million Americans live in poverty, the most in 52 years of recorded history. That's 15% of the U.S. population.
As many as 16 million American children live in food-insecure families. They go to bed hungry many nights. Of the estimated 50 million food-insecure Americans, 45% aren't eligible for food stamps, according to Feeding America, a national hunger relief charity.
Pantries and soup kitchens are a last resort for many people who may have lost their jobs but still have some assets. Food banks rely on USDA for as much as 60% of their supplies, but higher farm prices have curtailed government commodity purchases, and congressional spending cuts are being proposed.
That's why initiatives like the recent $20,000 donation to the Iowa Food Bank from America Needs Farmers and Farm Strong are so important.
It's incredible that children in the Heartland go to bed hungry. The impact of hunger on kids extends far beyond nutrition. Studies show a significant academic achievement gap between students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches and those who don't.
Hunger isn't likely to be solved simply by higher crop yields. Hunger around the world stems from inequity and politics. Those dynamics are at work in the U.S., too.