Common symptoms in young people, Heatly said, include acting sluggish, distracted or tired, irritable or even withdrawn and worried.
“One of the first questions we ask any student sent to the office is whether or not they’ve eaten,” said Jefferson Elementary Counselor Lisa Linke. “We as adults know that when we’re hungry our brains don’t function, we’re tired and we’re irritable, but children can’t tie the two together, which makes them more frustrated because they don’t understand why they’re not successful in the classroom.”
Research conducted by the Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy found that undernutrition in early childhood delays brain development, linking iron deficiency to learning impairment and found the length of a child’s undernutrition directly correlates to the severity of learning impairment.
A positive result of the increased need for nutrition assistance programs is an overwhelming expansion of partnerships between schools, local businesses, churches and charity agencies, increasing food accessibility particularly for children at school sites and beyond.
“One very good thing to me is, kids who need food know exactly where to get it at school, and we keep close tabs on which children ask for food and how often,” Miller said. “It’s all about building trust, so students who feel safe and cared for will speak up.”
After-school programs such as United Way’s Community After School Program (CASP) and LoveWorks provide snacks to take home or weekly meals, respectively, and many local businesses and community food drives directly benefit these and similar agencies.
“Sooner Copy keeps a room full of non-perishables which I can visit any time,” Linke said. “I just go over, write down what I took, and I can give out boxes of food to any parents or caregivers who express an immediate need — I did this just recently for a grandmother who came in needing food for the children she’s caring for.”