School and community food programs: Protecting our most vulnerable populations
These programs, along with nutrition education, start kids off on healthy paths, strengthen communities and improve health outcomes for the future of Michigan residents.
Hunger or food insecurity are not only problems far away, but also very close to home, rural and urban across Michigan. Schools, community centers and afterschool sites can be refuges for our vulnerable populations.
There are 419,000 children under the age of 18 living in households. In the last year there was an uncertainty of having or an inability to acquire enough food for all household members because of insufficient funds or other resources.
One program designed to alleviate this problem is the United States Department of Agriculture Free/Reduced Lunch program. In 2012, 740,296 Michigan students, (48.2 percent of the school age population) received free or reduced price lunches. This statistic is significantly up from the 671,784 (41.3 percent) in 2008, according to Kids Count Data Center (a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation).
In addition, many communities receive grant dollars from backpack programs that provide packaged food for weekends and throughout the summer, when school is in recess. Supporting students and families with basic needs reduces stressors that can be barriers for learning and caregiving. This allows for gains in academic success and overall well being.
These programs, along with nutrition education, start kids off on healthy paths, strengthen communities and improve health outcomes for the future of Michigan residents. Michigan State University Extension educators and instructors team up with many schools in which at or above 50 percent of their population receives free and reduced lunches. Their goal is to provide learning opportunities about the five food groups, healthy choices and physical activity. Books, games, website exploration and taste testings are designed to increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption and the amount of physical activity they engage in.