Back to school – homeless and hungry

School lunchThis week produced a flurry of excitement in Orange County, Florida as thousands of students slipped on new sneakers, packed lunch boxes, and caught school buses for the start of the school year. Despite the annual anticipation surrounding this occasion, projected rates of free and reduced-cost school lunches hint that many families will be unable to provide their children with sufficient nutrition this year. Even more dismally, local studies have concluded that thousands of youngsters will also lack a stable home this school year.

According to McClatchy Newspapers, the number of children receiving free or reduced-cost school lunches is expected to climb to 18.5 million this school year. That’s the highest the National School Lunch Program has seen their numbers in 41 years.  In addition to school lunches, 8.5 million children are expected to participate in the federal School Breakfast Program.

Food stamp recipients are automatically eligible for both the National School Lunch Program and the federal School Breakfast Program. You are probably not surprised to hear that food stamp enrollment has hit its own record high each of the last six months. In fact, a total of 34.4 million people were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) in May.

McClatchy Newspapers proposes that high school lunch and food stamp rates signify more people are struggling financially and that in turn, homelessness is rising. Unfortunately, school-age children and their parents are not exempt from this trend. The Homeless Services Network of Central Florida (HSN) has studied the issue of homeless populations locally and, with our children in mind, collected data from last school year:

The HSN 2009 Point In Time Count reported that 4,206 homeless students, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, were attending school in Central Florida in May 2009. Obviously, those statistics will differ from those of the new school year, but we think this year may see even more children without a stable home.
With so many families struggling to make ends meet, we believe that providing children with a nutritious meal and a safe place to stay is an essential initiative.

It is obvious that the issues of childhood hunger and homelessness are close to the heart of the Coalition. We’d love for you to get involved in locally addressing these issues today. If you want to join us in this critical battle, check out Taste of the Nation Orlando (happening Saturday, August 29, 2009) or find out how you can give back to your community through the Coalition.