Everyone understands how hard it is to think and concentrate when you’re hungry (or hangry, more like it). Unfortunately, food insecurity is a real issue for millions of schoolchildren, right here in our own country. While school lunch programs can often help low-income students get the nourishment they need during the school day, it doesn’t help much outside of the cafeteria.
That’s why educators like Katherine Gibson Howton, a teacher at Reynolds Learning Academy in Fairview, Oregon, were appalled when they heard that the government was considering cutting funding to after-school programs.
“They’re supposed to help kids who can’t — who don’t get fed at home, get fed so they do better at school,” said White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney in March. “Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that.” Gibson Howton certainly had her own demonstrable evidence to provide. She quickly took to social media and wrote this heartfelt post:
We are your children’s teachers. We know that we may have more time with your child than you do. We don’t want them to be hungry, and not just because a hungry child can’t learn but because we care about them. Hungry feels scary. Almost every teacher I know has a cabinet in their classroom with emergency food for their hungry students. This is the cabinet I share with another teacher, Julie Mack. Children come into our classroom everyday telling us they are hungry. Many more never say a word because they are embarrassed and it is up to us to notice that they are distracted, tired, grumpy. Skilled and compassionate teachers learn to ask if there is food in the house and when was the last time you ate? And the really skilled teachers just know when to make an extra sandwich, grab an orange, make a bag of popcorn or bowl of oatmeal, and set it in front of a student and tell them to eat.And YES, that is a jar of peanut butter. It has not been a problem.
Gibson Howton’s post quickly went viral, spreading through teacher networks and mainstream media alike. As she told the Huffington Post, this kind of behind-the-scenes care that teachers provide often goes undiscussed because it’s just part of the job. “I think that in the micro world of the individual classroom it’s not that interesting, but taken in its totality, the macro view that this is happening all over the country in thousands of classrooms is interesting,” Gibson Howton said.
At the same time, the risk of budget cuts means that it’s time to speak up. Gibson Howton wants to encourage other teachers across the country to share pictures of their own emergency food supplies to show the government just how important food security is for these kids.
“Mulvaney can only say what he said because those of us in schools have been quietly filling in the gaps. He has been allowed to stay ignorant because we are providing an invisible safety net,” she said.
Gibson Howton recommends that parents and community members who want to help out could provide local schools with gift cards to grocery stores. That way, their cupboards will never be bare and no kid will have to hungry at school.