What does the weekend mean to you? Is it a break from the workweek? A change of pace? Maybe more time to spend with your family, friends, or church community?
Now think back to your childhood; what did the weekend mean for you as a child? For most of us, the weekend meant a break from school, freedom from class, and time to play and spend time with friends. For most children even today, the weekend is the promised land at the end of the 5-day pilgrimage of school, a time to have fun and abandon the worries of the week.
Unfortunately for 1 out of 7 children in the United States and 1 of 6 children in West Michigan, the weekend brings on a sense of uncertainty and anxiety, as their next meal is not guaranteed. For these children who are experiencing food insecurity, the weekend can be a time of fear instead of leisure. Friday is often the beginning of watching their parents struggle to provide for them, or even worse, a time to embark out alone in search of something to fill their stomachs.
And at the end of the weekend, these 1 out of 6 children who live in uncertainty are still expected to be at school on Monday ready to learn and engage with other students and teachers. The expectations are no different for these brave youngsters who still show up to class and give their best effort to keep up with the multitude of responsibilities that they are given, in spite of the fact that hunger has been shown to have definitive detrimental effects on learning capability.
According to research done by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), hungry children are more likely to suffer from hyperactivity, absenteeism, generally poor behavior, and poor academic functioning than non-hungry peers. This is also evident from an early age, evidenced by the fact that by third grade, children who had been food insecure in kindergarten saw a 13% drop in their reading and math test scores compared to food-secure peers. These are children starting at a disadvantage because of factors outside of their control.
Many of these children may never realize their full academic or social potential because of the struggle of the weekend and the lack of something so basic as a meal. Further research from the FRAC has shown connections between several diseases and medical conditions and the lack of proper nutrition in children. As a result, there are 80,000 children in West Michigan whose future may involve the development of asthma, diabetes, anemia, several forms of cancer, and the list goes on.
This is the reality that Hand2Hand seeks to prevent. Working with a combined 327 schools and churches across West Michigan, Hand2Hand is able to ensure that 7833 children can go home every Friday with meals for themselves and their families. This means that 7833 children get to look forward to the weekend once again and that thousands of parents get to see their children’s future brighten before their eyes. This means that the future leaders of our community and society have one less thing preventing them from developing into the best students, leaders, and people that they can be.
There is still work to do and there are still many hungry children in need of support, but through the work of Hand2Hand and its 6150 volunteers, the lives of these children and their families are being changed.
Written by Michael Karanja