By Bread Staff
Editor’s note: This is a first-person account told to Bread staff members by a Bread colleague about the importance of good nutrition, especially during a child’s early years. Proper nutrition plays a significant, time-sensitive role in a child’s growth and development.
Over 16 million American children or 1 in 5 don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. Hungry children are not a rare exception. They are your neighbors. They are my neighbors.
But statistics and reasoning are often not enough to convince us to take actions. Real-life stories bring home the critical importance of good nutrition to a child’s growth and development.
I have one such story.
My younger son’s birth mother wasn’t able to provide him with strong pre-natal nutrition. There was no Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) nutrition program. There were not enough nutritious breakfasts and lunches for the first 7 ½ years of his life. He was robbed of his best potential because he did not receive critical nutrients. Each day now and for the rest of his life he will pay the price of malnutrition.
Like many children in developed countries who have been malnourished, my son did not “look hungry.” Only later, would we know the effects of his hunger — his shorter stature but more importantly the gaps in his brain’s development.
Today, at 17, he uses his fingers to count while doing his math homework because he lost out in having the brain development that supports the memorizing and recalling of elementary math facts. My son is not lazy. He does apply himself. My husband and I support his educational efforts with countless hours of at-home tutoring. But, despite spending the equivalent of months trying to learn the multiplication table, he has not been successful because he does not have the capacity to learn them.
As we look to the future, my husband and I are asking, “Will a college degree pay off? Who will hire him? How will he be successful in a world that values speed and high productivity?” We swallow hard and say a prayer, “Guide us Lord. We don’t know what to do. We need your grace to figure something out.”
Hunger is not a partisan issue. Both Republicans and Democrats know that hunger hurts — from kids whose stomachs ache to parents whose hearts break. But, the biggest hurt is the lifetime price that children who have experienced hunger and malnutrition will pay.
A child whose brain does not develop optimally can’t eat extra food as an adult to make up for this deficit. In our fix-it society, the effects of poor nutrition cannot be fixed later when the budget deficit is lower, when jobs are more plentiful, or when universal access to food is a reality. We need to make sure now that children have access to nutritious food so that they can be all that God intended for them to be.
Urge Congress to strengthen our child nutrition programs, particularly the summer meals program. Tell Congress to also protect SNAP and other anti-poverty programs from harmful budget and funding cuts. Call (800/826-3688) or email your members of Congress today.