Letter: Don’t let Detroit kids go hungry

As this school year starts back up, school cafeterias across Detroit and our state are preparing and serving breakfast and lunches for children who otherwise would not have the food they need for them to grow, learn and survive.

We need to step up and fight for kids who are going hungry. No child should wonder where their next meal is going to come from.

When children go hungry, they experience problems at school, at home and in the community. That’s why having access to food is of dire importance not only in the short term, but the long term futures for hundreds of thousands of kids across our state that experience hunger.

In Washington, D.C., the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry will meet to mark up the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which provides funding for free or reduced price lunches and summer meals during the school day for children who come from low-income families.

We have an amazing opportunity to ensure that tens of thousands of kids in the Metro Detroit area have access to healthy meals — a necessity they often go without — but we must make Congress listen. We need these critical bills reauthorized, but we also need to expand them to cover more communities and help more kids.

Currently, community organizations like the YMCA of Metro Detroit can access funding through these acts for summer and after school meal programs if 50 percent of kids in their area qualify for free or reduced lunch. However, there’s a push to lower that threshold to 40 percent, which would be a game changer for the Metro Detroit area.

At the YMCA, we work in communities that fall into that gap between 40 and 50 percent. Right now, we don’t have the opportunity to provide meal programs for those types of areas where, for example, 45 percent of kids qualify for free and reduced lunch. The South Oakland Y, located in Royal Oak and serving several neighboring communities, is one area where we would be able to help if that threshold were lowered.

If this small change is made an additional 161,072 children will have access to summer nutrition programs in our state. That is good news for children, families and our communities. Food insecurity is real — morning, noon and night, in the summer and during the school year — and we need to do all we can to solve this problem.

The situation these kids face are dire, but we have a great opportunity to help them. Nationwide, 20 million kids get access to school lunches during the year, but only 2.3 million of those same kids have access to summer meals. That’s a huge gap. In a community like Detroit, where widespread poverty is a daily issue, this problem is only compounded.

We need Congress to not only reauthorize, but to expand these critical programs.

Kids across the state are depending on us to do what we can to ensure they don’t go hungry. We all need to be calling our senators, like Debbie Stabenow, who is vice chair of the committee where these bills are being discussed, and writing our other congressional representatives.

Together we can ensure that no child goes hungry.

Jennifer Paffi, program director

YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit