Feeding the Body in Order to Feed the Brain

A couple of articles in the last weeks have really driven home the extent to which children in our own communities are going hungry and the impact that hunger has on their ability to actively and attentively participate in school.

The first article , from USA Today, highlighted a group of programs I had never heard of but which I think deserves significant attention. Referred to as "backpack programs" these initiatives provide school children with a backpack full of nutritious food to get them through the weekend. And, to increase the odds of participation, the backpacks are the same kind the schools issue for schoolwork - reducing the potential stigma on a student for taking advantage of the service. Results suggest that these programs reduce absenteeism and improve behavior. America's Second Harvest is the largest nonprofit provider of backpack programs.

The second article, from the New York Times, examined the state of education in still-recovering New Orleans, and specifically, what approaches new superintendent Paul Vallas has up his sleeve to help transform that broken system. One of his major initiatives is to position the schools as "substitute families", acknowledging that the deep poverty that existed even before Katrina's devastation combined with its tragic results, have obliterated the support structures that were too few to begin with. He, too, is focused on meeting students' basic needs in addition to providing their education. In this case, Vallas' school system provides children three meals a day.

I've written here before about how the "simple things" nonprofits are doing need our time, attention and resources just as urgently as the splashier programs. It seems to me that one incredibly important component of ensuring our children are PREPARED to receive an education at all is to ensure that they're also not too distracted by their grumbling stomachs to listen. It seems so simple, doesn't it? I implore each and every one who reads this blog to look into what you can do in your community to get a program like this rolling.

Nancy DeFauw

Posted at 1:09 AM, Sep 28, 2007 in Education | Philanthropic Strategy | Youth | Permalink | Comment