Commentary: Hungry children shouldn't be political pawns

The Kansas City StarSeptember 12, 2012 

SANCHEZ MARY KC

Mary Sanchez is a columnist with the Kansas City Star.

MBR — Kansas City Star/MCT

Before he lit up the Internet with comments on rape, Todd Akin was slamming efforts that feed hungry children. His dismissive thoughts on school lunch programs were overshadowed by his far more appalling statement on “legitimate rape.”

But it’s the derision of federal government help for hungry children that is the tougher political issue.

A new study — where teachers are trying to educate us — might have helped.

Three in five public school teachers surveyed said they regularly see children show up to class hungry. A full 77 percent said child hunger should be a national priority, according to “Hunger in the Classroom: Share Our Strength Teacher Report 2012.”

Pair that lesson with the latest stats of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released last Wednesday. We’re setting records as a nation — for letting children go hungry. In 2011, 16.6 million children, one out of every five, struggled with hunger.

The Akinses of the nation need more convincing that this is critical. The U.S. Senate candidate from Missouri believes the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of feeding children. It’s part of a mantra against the federal role in education.

Somehow this topic too often devolves into a conversation about handouts and laziness, or a lack of parental responsibility.

The growling stomachs of children don’t need politicizing. They need to be fed. Fed through programs that are sustainable through the summer, with nutritious meals not at risk of being slashed to balance a budget that leaves plenty of government perks for adults with less pressing needs.

Maybe it’s the terminology that sets people off course.

“Food insecurity” is the wonky term these reports use. It basically means that families are scrambling to get something on the table. It’s a governmental way of measuring an often bare cupboard.

Missouri can take some credit for being one of eight states involved with a piloted new approach to target childhood hunger in a less piecemeal, more comprehensive way.

The idea is to carry the help of a reduced-price or free lunch through the summer.

In 2012, the families of 5,300 school children in the Center, Hickman Mills and Kansas City school districts were able to buy food through the program, according to Missouri officials.

Maybe the disconnect arises because many decision-makers have never experienced real hunger. Child hunger isn’t about kids not liking what is on their plate, dumping the organic, less sugar-filled options into the cafeteria trash.

It’s about children unable to concentrate on school because they’re hungry. They might go through the day fuzzy-headed, irritable or checked out during class. And many likely know there is little available for supper.

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