Take a Bite out of Hunger

MN communities experience food insecurity in rising numbers

Uzin Shrestha, Staff Writer

For most people, food is a source of joy. We eat when we are happy, during celebrations and we cook the food we enjoy for the people we love. However, many individuals do not have the privilege of enjoying food in this way due to the issues of food insecurity in the area.

“It could be any family that struggles to go to the grocery store and provide food for their family on a weekly basis,” Peggy Breard, MN’s school social worker said, describing what Millard Public Schools defines as food insecurity.

These problems exist in our community for various reasons, ranging from the lack of low incoming housing in Millard to the aftermath of Covid. 

“In the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area 100,810 people (12.5%) experience food insecurity,” the Douglas County Health department stated.

 “The Omaha and Council Bluffs area simply does not have enough quality affordable housing to meet the need.” Omaha Foundations writes on their website.

Reduced housing and other in-cash housing assistance help alleviate the housing cost burden for low-income families. The lack of this affordable housing can make it very difficult for families to put enough money towards food when they have a large chunk of their paychecks going towards the house payment.

The aftermath of COVID-19 has also contributed to the rise in food insecurity in Millard. It caused an increase in the prices of food. This has made it very difficult for many low-income families to buy enough to eat. 

For this reason, many families opt for free or reduced lunches. Over the years the percentage of families in these affordable lunch programs has increased due to the lack of enough food for certain students at home. 

“I’ve been in the district since 2007 and when I started MN’s free and reduced lunch percentage was like 6% or somewhere in that area and now we’re up to 22%,” Beard said.

Some families do over-qualify for reduced lunch as they do not meet the federal poverty guidelines. However, some of these issues were resolved last year by providing free school lunches for every student. 

“It wasn’t a stigma to say you had free and reduced lunch or it wasn’t something that your family had to apply for,” Breard said. 

Hunger can have many effects on the body, and for students who also have the stress of school, these struggles could be even worse. When youth are in a constant state of hunger, it weakens their muscles, bones, and other internal organs. 

Not knowing when they might get their next meal can cause a variety of psychological issues including anxiety and depression. Both the physical and psychological effects that hunger causes, directly affect a student’s academic performance.

As for the future, with the rise of food prices, the amount of food insecurity is predicted to grow in the following years. Food banks will play a crucial role in providing food security for many families in the community. 

The food pantry was started about 4 years ago for students and families who need assistance with food.

“They started the pantry to meet those needs and try to meet our students and get them what they needed even if they didn’t qualify for assistance outside of school,”  Breard said.

Students may not even consider that this is something their classmates are going through.

“If you don’t have that concern, that’s not something that going to come across your radar,” Breard said. 

Students are encouraged to stay mindful of their friends and classmates. For those struggling with these difficulties, it’s highly encouraged to be a self-advocate and reach out for help in any way they can.