Understanding Food Insecurity

People often ask, “is food insecurity the same as hunger?” Many children living in food insecure households do face hunger, which is why these concepts are confused. However, hunger refers to the physical discomfort experienced by an individual, while food insecurity refers to not having the financial resources to access enough nutritious food on a regular basis at the household level.

There are many different perspectives on what food insecurity means or looks like for families in our own backyards, and every voice is equally important in understanding and addressing childhood food insecurity. Learn more about the prevalence and effects of food insecurity on children – and what you can do in your community to alleviate its impact.

What Food Insecurity Looks Like For Families

You might think only unhoused families or those facing extreme poverty experience food insecurity, but food insecurity doesn’t look the same for all families affected in our communities. For one family who is living from paycheck to paycheck, food insecurity may mean that groceries run out before payday and there aren’t enough funds to refill the pantry for a few days. Other families who are reliant on government assistance programs also struggle to make ends meet at the end of the month when food stamps run out. For kids moving from house to house, in the care of multiple family members or guardians, they may not know who or where their next meal is coming from. For other children, food insecurity might look like not having a snack to get them through baseball practice, or access to foods that are easy to prepare for themselves when they get home from school. 

Prevalance of Food Insecurity

The last couple of years have been especially hard on families, leading to an increased rate of food insecurity among children. Nationally, the number of children facing hunger rose during the pandemic to nearly 12 million, around 6% of the total U.S. population of children under age 18. In our home of Portage County, the rate of food-insecure children under age 18 is 20%, almost three times the national average. Two other key counties in northeast Ohio, the food insecurity rate for children is 19.4% in Stark County and 19.1% in Summit County. And the number of children living in food insecure homes continues to grow in our communities. A significant portion of these children are school aged, which leads to 3 out of 4 teachers regularly having hungry children in their classrooms. 

Effects of Food Insecurity

The statistics on food insecurity are startling and we know that no child should not have the basic need of food – but not having enough food can also have serious implications for a child’s physical and mental health, academic achievement and future economic prosperity. 

Research shows an association between food insecurity and many adverse effects to overall health including delayed development for young children, chronic illnesses and behavioral problems. Examples include asthma, anemia, hyperactivity, anxiety and aggression in school-age children. When a child is focused on their hunger in school, it’s also much harder for them to achieve their goals and set themselves up for future success to escape the cycle of poverty 

Bridging the Gap In Our Community

To provide relief from breakfast and lunch costs, many children in food insecure homes are eligible for free or reduced school lunches. Some families also receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, widely known as food stamps. But did you know that food stamps don’t cover the cost for essential household items, like cleaning products, bathroom tissue or personal hygiene necessities? And free school meals aren’t an option when students are home from school for the weekend or days off. For many children depend on school-provided meals, holiday breaks and other days meant to be fun turn into a time of heightened anxiety. While local pantries and food banks are an option for some households, lack of transportation or busy work schedules are often a barrier. 

It’s up to us as a community to help bridge that gap and alleviate food insecurity for children. At the Ben Curtis Family Foundation, we believe it takes a village to end childhood hunger. To provide families some relief from grocery costs, we started our Birdie Bag (BB) program to serve children attending local school districts. We work with schools to send home BB with students that include easy-to-prepare meals, snacks and a toiletry kit. Many students enjoy sharing their bags with younger siblings and their families. Families are thankful for the extra bit of help they receive, but most importantly, our Birdie Bags help all kids feel seen and supported. We also offer a summer feeding program to help children outside of the school year and organize an annual Christmas event A Very Merry Dinner, for local families.

How to Get Involved

Ready to be part of the solution in northeast Ohio? Help children living in food-insecure homes right here in your community by supporting our mission and becoming a BCFF Champion. Our dedicated volunteers, community partners, sponsors and donors have helped to expand our impact to more communities and children.

Become a Champion

Do you want to get involved in the fight against the childhood hunger in Northeast Ohio?

Get in touch with our team. We are always in need of volunteers, donors, sponsors and community partners to help us fulfill our mission of alleviating child hunger in our community.