By Zach Friend and Michael Watkins contributed to the Register-Pajaronian, published December 5, 2015
On any given day, as many as one in four local children will wonder whether their home will have enough food to feed them or where their next meal will come from. And when food is available, many families faced with increasing rents and high costs of living stretch their dollars with inexpensive food that is high in calories and low in nutrition.
No area of the county is immune to this reality, and all school districts from the San Lorenzo Valley to the Pajaro Valley have children that come to school for more than just education they come for their most secure healthy meal of the day. A total of 57 percent of Santa Cruz County students are eligible for either a free or reduced lunch. In addition, many schools provide a free breakfast program to ensure some sense of food security.
There is an important correlation between nutrition and learning. And of equal importance, as a community we share a strong responsibility to assuring our local children have access to reliable, healthy food options. Just imagine living with food insecurity not knowing where your next meal will come from or whether it will be large enough or healthy enough to be optimal. Now imagine a local child, attending school, asked to participate, study and be tested all without having access to consistent, healthy meals. As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows, a pressing need has to be satisfied before someone would give their attention to the next highest need. Without something as essential as food being provided, students are ill-prepared to learn and struggle in school.
This is where the Second Harvest Food Bank comes in. In partnership with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, Second Harvest supplements many of the local school free breakfast programs with healthy, reliable food options. In fact, the Second Harvest nutrition program has grown to 60 sites over the last 20 years, providing more than a million healthy meals a year to an average of 7,000 children each month. Second Harvest couples this with nutritional education for families to promote healthier eating habits at home. Of the families that have participated in the program, more than 90 percent are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and have improved their eating habits overall.
But there is more that can be done. We can all agree that no child should go hungry in our community. The local school districts and Second Harvest are working to make sure this goal is met. Now itâ€™s our turn. This holiday season let’s help Second Harvest give our local school children more confidence of where their next healthy meal will come from. Call Second Harvest at 722-7110 or visit the foodbank.org to learn more about the program, participate or donate.