By Kathy Hubbard
“It’s a good thing we get paid today,” the young mother of three said. “The rent is due, my car needs gas and we haven’t had any food in the house for three days. I bought a dollar meal last night and we all split it. We ate the little bit in the bottom of the cereal box without milk for breakfast.”
This woman isn’t alone in the struggle for making ends meet. Of the 41,389 people in Bonner County, 15 percent live under the poverty rate of $25,750 for a family of four. I did the math. If our mom makes $12.38 per hour for her 40 hour work week, she’s living under the poverty level. And, she doesn’t make that much.
A study done in 2010 concluded that children who live in lower-income and poverty-level homes are three times as likely to become victims of neglect, physical or sexual abuse and, of course, malnourished.
“Studies show that food insufficiency is associated with higher prevalence of poor health conditions, including stomachaches, headaches, and colds, and that severe hunger can predict chronic illness among both preschool and school-age children,” an article published by American Psychological Association said.
“Malnutrition in the first years of life is especially harmful, impacting physical growth, decreasing resistance to disease, limiting the size and functioning of the children’s brain structures, and stunting intellectual capacity.
“Severe hunger is associated with anxiety and depression among children. Research shows that families’ lack of sufficient food, irrespective of their income, is associated with depressive disorders and suicidality in adolescents. Food insecure children may perform worse on academic achievement tests and learn less during the school year.”
Symptoms of undernutrition include a lack of appetite or interest in food or drink; tiredness and irritability; inability to concentrate; always feeling cold; loss of fat, muscle mass and body tissue; higher risk of getting sick and taking longer to heal.
In more severe cases the child has trouble breathing, their skin may become thin, dry, inelastic, pale and cold and their cheeks may appear hollow and the eyes sunken, as fat disappears from the face. The child may show a lack of growth and develop learning difficulties.
Children with malnutrition have reduced ability to fight infection and are more likely to die from common diseases. As a matter of fact, malnutrition is a contributing factor in over 50 percent of childhood deaths. Even with treatment, there can be long-term effects on mental function, and digestive problems and these children are more apt to develop diabetes and hypertension in adulthood.
Bonner County is one of the worst counties in Idaho with child hunger issues, according to Food For Our Children, a local not-for-profit that’s committed to solving the problem.
“School age children do receive nutritious free or reduced price breakfasts and lunches when they are in school. But the problem is most severe the days that school is not in session,” FFOC’s website says. “We want to help bridge the gap by providing nutritious foods that do not require adult preparation directly to the children for the weekends and school breaks.”
And, thanks to the support of Bonner General Health, Bonner Community Food Bank, Lake Pend Oreille School District and a number of other local businesses and individuals, FFOC is reaching their goals.
They say that their program “puts the food directly in the hands of the child, requires no overhead, and no taxpayer dollars. Food is purchased wholesale at the best possible pricing.”
If you’re interested in learning more, or in making a donation to help eliminate child hunger in Bonner County, go to www.foodforourchildren.org. The food bank’s website is www.foodbank83864.com if you want to know how to assist them.
Our young mother needed some counseling on proper food preparation and money management. She also needed to know that there are free meals offered throughout the week a list of which can be found at www.sandpointcommunityresource.com.
Knowing that there were resources available to her made her a better employee and certainly a better mother. Pass this information on if you know someone who can use it.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.