On Monday mornings during the school year, kids roll out of bed and get ready for the day. The morning routine looks a little different for everyone. For about 24 percent of the students in ISD 196, the Monday morning breakfast provided at school might be the first healthy meal they’ve eaten since Friday’s lunch. These students and their families are suffering in silence from hunger.

What does hunger look like? It’s not the hunger from your grandparent’s era. Odds are good that when you think about hunger, you envision an urban setting or the worn faces of the 1930s. That’s not the face of hunger today. Hunger, or food insecurity, isn’t the complete absence of food. It’s a piercing, nagging fear about the next meal. Families struggling in silence earn money, but it’s too much to qualify for food assistance. Easter’s Director of Local Mission, Rhonda Doran, said, “These families are struggling in silence because they aren’t below the poverty line. They’re near the poverty line or just above it, but they don’t qualify for free and reduced lunches.”

Face of Hunger

Face of Hunger

Over the last five years, the school district started noticing students were coming to school hungry on Monday mornings. “They were hungry and unfocused. Also, there were children asking for extra food at lunch or attempting to take home extra food for the weekend so they wouldn’t be hungry,” said Doran.

These families don’t want others to know, which makes food insecurity the silent struggle. The struggle didn’t go unnoticed by school social workers, principals, and teachers. Ten years ago, about ten percent of the students in the district were receiving free and reduced lunches. That number has more than doubled to 24 percent. Above and beyond the 24 percent, there are families in need of food assistance who don’t meet the federal guidelines.

That’s when programs like The Sheridan Story and Easter’s Community Meals step up and try to fill the gap. The Sheridan Story is a local non-profit working to support school-aged kids and their families with a supply of healthy, free food every weekend. Regardless of a family’s income, the program provides food. Their goal is to fill the weekend food gap between Friday and Monday in a discreet and respectful way.

One school social worker from the district sees the family struggles firsthand. The social worker meets with a family living in their car. Within a mile of Easter Lutheran, the family is eating, sleeping, and struggling in silence in their car. The family is trying to get back on their feet. Wanting to do what’s best for their child, both parents work and they bring their kindergartner to school everyday. On Fridays, a free bag full of groceries is discreetly given to the kindergartner through The Sheridan Story. After the third week of food distribution this year, the social worker found out the family was living in their car. They weren’t able to open some of the donations because they didn’t have a can opener. The school quickly remedied the issue and purchased a can opener for the family. The family is so thankful for The Sheridan Story, the church that provides funding for the groceries, and the “community anonymously wrapping their arms around their family,” said the social worker.

A cafeteria worker noticed children were taking extra food that wasn’t part of the lunch. When she found them doing it, she asked why. Doran said, “Some of the stories she heard were that they were saving it for later because they wouldn’t have dinner.” One little boy said he took extra food because he knew his sister would be hungry over the weekend and he wanted to make sure she had something to eat.

Another school social worker, seeing families suffer in silence, meets with a family living close to Easter Lutheran. The family owns their own business, but times are tough and the business is struggling. They own a home, but struggle to put food on the table for their children. “This is the silent struggle because they don’t want everyone to know and they don’t meet the income qualifications for free and reduced lunches,” said Doran. One of the family’s children is in elementary school and discreetly receives a free bag of groceries every Friday from The Sheridan Story. They appreciate how private and discreet the program is and that there are no income requirements.

After hearing the stories and seeing the struggles, ISD 196 partnered with The Sheridan Story. The program provides the food. Community sponsors, including churches, provide the funding for the district’s 18 elementary schools. It was a natural fit for Easter to sponsor Oak Ridge Elementary, our partner school, for this year. Across the district, ten schools and 494 students are receiving food. Unfortunately, seven elementary schools aren’t sponsored. According to Doran, “Unless there’s a sponsor, the students don’t get food.” To help fill the food gap at these seven schools, Easter is raising additional funds as part of the Fall Hunger Appeal. Easter wants to ensure that every child in the district who needs food for the weekend will have it.

This is the face of hunger today. It’s the families amongst us suffering in silence. It’s the unfocused and hungry students walking through the school hallways. It’s the nagging fear about the next meal. Those suffering in silence need people to step up and show that food isn’t a privilege.

When you wake up and go about your morning routine, know that the routine looks a little different for everyone. Remember that God is calling Easter Lutheran and God is calling all of us. And pray. Good morning, God. I love you! What do you have in store for the day? I’d like to be a part of it.