Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Let's Talk About Food And Health

David Jesse's recent article at about a Mitchell Elementary School program to provide weekend "food backpacks," made me think it is time to say something more about food, and health.
Different schools and school districts have different feelings about how much they should help provide a safety net for students. Some schools have stepped up to the plate--for instance, Bryant/Pattengill in Ann Arbor runs a clothes closet, and the Ypsilanti Public Schools run one for the whole district. Other schools have been reluctant to jump into providing services, because the need is so great, and they don't want to be seen as a giant social service agency.

On the other hand--kids who are hungry, cold, or sick don't do very well in school. I think that those schools that try to support students' other needs are doing the right things. But remember, knowledge is power, and a lot of people who are eligible for programs don't know they are eligible. So here are a few resources. Please share them!

1. Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program (which includes breakfast): you can register for this at any time during the school year. If, for instance, you had work at the beginning of the year and wouldn't qualify, you might find that you qualify now. Ask for an application at the front office of the school your child attends. Some schools use this as a way to identify kids who qualify for other benefits/scholarships. (I've written about school lunch here.)

2. The Food Stamp application is now online. This is new, and it is great news. Spread the word. A lot of people are surprised to find out that they qualify. If you want an estimate as to whether your family will qualify, here is the link to a food stamp calculator. And here is the link to the application.

3. Similarly, you can now enroll your kids in the MIChild/Healthy Kids program with an online application. (Women 19-44 can be enrolled in the Plan First family planning program through the same application.)

4. The Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools has clinics in several local schools, including schools in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Willow Run. Check them out here.

5. Pregnant women and kids up to age 5 can be served by WIC (Women, Infants, and Children)--and that can help stretch the overall food budget. WIC also has some satellite clinics, which is helpful for people living on the edges of the county.


  1. Ann Arbor, MI --- Feb. 2, 2010 --- Landmark study Hunger in America 2010, released today by Food Gatherers and Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, reports that more than 43,900 people --including more than 14,000 children and 6,500 seniors—receive emergency food each year through Food Gatherers’ network of emergency food pantries and meal sites. The findings represent a 138 percent increase since 2006.

    Hunger in America 2010 is the first research study to capture the significant connection between the recent economic downturn and an increased need for emergency food assistance. The study only includes data from emergency providers and does not include data from many of Food Gatherers network of 150 partner programs including low income housing sites, group homes, and substance abuse treatment facilities.

    In Washtenaw County more than one in three client households are experiencing very low food security—or hunger. Households with very low food security are defined as having had one or more members experience reductions in food intake or disruptions in eating patterns due to a lack of adequate resources for food.

    An estimated 6,900 people receive emergency food assistance each week from a food pantry, soup kitchen, or other agency served by Food Gatherers network. This is a 73 percent increase in people served locally from 2006 and far exceeds the national average increase of 27 percent.

    “Average monthly unemployment rate for Washtenaw County increased 84 percent from Jan. through June 2005 to Jan. through June 2009. People who never needed food assistance in the past are seeking help from emergency food pantries for the first time,” explained Eileen Spring, President and CEO of Food Gatherers. “With the help of nearly 5,000 volunteers and generous support from local food businesses and funders, Food Gatherers distribution of food increased by 62 percent in this time period. However, we still have a lot of work to do to meet the rising demand for food assistance.”

    The methodology incorporated into the 2010 study includes data collected from Feb. through June, 2009. Food Gatherers conducted face-to-face interviews with 324 people seeking emergency food at food pantries, soup kitchens and other emergency feeding programs, as well as interviews with more than 73 agencies that provide food assistance.

  2. You said: "Other schools have been reluctant to jump into providing services, because the need is so great, and they don't want to be seen as a giant social service agency."

    Wow. Really? That seems bizarre. Of course the schools are a giant social service agency! Granted, most of their clients are school-age children, but how big of a stretch is it to try and extend services to the parents? A long time ago, a school social worker explained to me that schools were, in many ways, better suited to provide these things. The kids are already there, and their parents follow. The schools try to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all, so wouldn't it seem to be a good centralized location--stigma-free, to boot--to provide services? And by "provide," I don't mean the district has to pay for them, but if they've got the space to accommodate donated items and others can administer them, then why not?

    - YpsiAnon

  3. I totally agree with you, YpsiAnon, and I don't want to call out any particular districts. Even in those districts, there are always some people who want to provide social services. In my experience, schools that are reluctant to provide a lot of services are either a)high-poverty districts who feel they are already doing what they can and don't want to be put upon even more or b) wealthy districts who don't believe there is a need for services.