We'll walk though a moment in the life of fictional character 12 year old "Phillip." On Sundays, Phillip goes to church with his family. After church, there was a pitch-in where Phillip and his siblings got to eat a big dinner with their mom who was extra grateful because she didn't know where dinner was going to come from since two days prior she spent the last of her small paycheck on the electric bill and they are still a week away from receiving this month's SNAP (food stamp) benefits. Monday morning rolls around and Phillip receives free breakfast through the public school system. He also gets lunch. Phillip gets out of school around 3:30pm and then rides the bus for 45 minutes home. He's pretty hungry since he burned off his lunch calories at recess, and lunchtime was over four hours earlier anyhow. Phillip looks in his cabinets and finds condiments, coffee and a few cans of vegetables. He opens the refrigerator only to find more condiments, a few eggs and some expired sour cream. His mom has already headed to her second job, so he has to make the most of what he can find. He scrambled the last three eggs in the fridge and shared them with his 5 year old sister. Phillip helps his little sister with her homework and then sits down to do his own. He can't really concentrate because he's still hungry. He gets up from his homework, gets his little sister's shoes on and they head down the block to his friend's house. He asks his friend to get him some food and the friend grabs him a pack of pop-tarts. That pack of pop-tarts became dinner for Phillip and his little sister.
Phillip takes his sister back home, eating pop-tarts on the way, and puts her in bed. He's still hungry because one and a half eggs and one pop-tart does not constitute a meal, especially not for an active 12 year old boy. He also hasn't finished his homework because his tummy is making too much noise and that's all he can think about. He decides to go to bed himself, but it's really difficult to fall asleep when you're so hungry. He lays in bed, flips through a comic book, plays with toys, and then goes to watch TV until his mom gets home at midnight. He didn't realize it had gotten that late. His mom, of course, makes him go to bed since it's midnight. She didn't really talk much with Phillip because it was late, he needed to go to bed, she was exhausted and she was worried about how she was going to pay the rent next month since they cut her hours at her part time job that night. He finally falls asleep around 1:00am just to wake up at 7:00am to get ready for school. A measly six hours of sleep. He gets to school, scarfs down his breakfast, finishes two of his friends' breakfasts since they weren't going to eat it, and then he heads to class.
Phillip suddenly feels super sleepy. It must have been a combination of lack of sleep the night before from being hungry and eating almost three breakfasts first thing in the morning. He starts to fiddle around, talk to his friends and wiggle in his chair to keep himself awake. Needless to say, he can't focus on a word that's coming out of the mouth of his teacher. In fact, he's now being disciplined in class for not sitting still, being quiet and paying attention. When the teacher asks him what's going on, he shrugs his shoulders and looks at the floor in defeat. As a 12 year old, he doesn't realize that his behavior is being directly affected by his eating habits. Many adults don't realize that about themselves!
This cycle repeats for Phillip -- more often than not. His grades end up low, his behavior is unpredictable and his standardized test scores are barely average. Now everyone is affected - his mom by having to constantly come into school to discuss Phillip's behavior and grades, the teachers by having students that need extra help in several areas in and out of school, the school by being held accountable for the success of the students, the school district by being under fire for low test scores and society in general by potentially having youth that may drop out of school, engage with questionable crowds/activities or both all because school became burdensome and a source of discouragement.
So we're handing out snacks. We're not so naive as to believe that after-school snacks are the solution to life and society's problems, but it's a start. We understand that there are also many other factors at play such as broken families, physical and emotional abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, lack of faith, mental illness and an abundance of other things, but we can't realistically tackle all of those at once. But we can help "Phillip" and others like him at least get some food in their tummies so they can do their homework and get some rest. A sandwich, baked chips, fresh fruit, natural fruit snacks and a drink are a fulfilling blessing in the face of empty cabinets. We'll make a bigger wave when we're finally able to open up our community center. We'll be able to graduate from helping not only "Phillip" but his mom and their entire family unit. In the interim, we'll be feeding children so that they can get closer to their version of greatness. We've started with a handful of zip codes three days a week. We want this to grow legs and become a citywide effort five days a week. Are you on board?
Let us know if you are interested in opportunities to volunteer. Food donations can be dropped off at 34th & Clifton Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 6:00pm-7:00pm. Monetary donations can be made here.