Understanding how hunger impacts Bucks communities

June 18th, 2018

By Marissa Christie / President and CEO United Way of Bucks County

The United Way’s Bucks Knocks Out Hunger effort is designed to help local residents avoid food insecurity and its effects on everyone, especially children.
Hunger and food insecurity impact four out of every 25 children in Bucks County. The consequences — short- and long-term — are devastating.
To fully understand how hunger impacts children in our community, the United Way spoke with a teacher, a school nurse and a nutritionist.
Michelle Argenti is a registered nurse with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing. She is also a certified school nurse serving the Morrisville School District.
Shara Aaron is a registered dietitian with Families Living Well at St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown.
Peggy Smith is a reading specialist and literacy coach in the Quakertown Community School District.
Q: First, what is the impact of hunger on children in our community?
Shara: Hunger impacts physical and mental aspects of a child’s growth and development. Nutritional deficiencies can stunt bone growth, brain growth and musculature. There are also long-term changes in cellular processes, which impact disease risk outcomes such as diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
Michelle: For kids, food insecurity leads to stress, fatigue, and an inability to focus on tasks, which is connected to low academic achievement.
Peggy: Our students who have not had breakfast in the morning or a solid dinner the night before are at a disadvantage. They often have trouble focusing and are not able to put forth their best effort when it comes to their learning.
Shara: It is very difficult to focus or concentrate on an empty stomach! Hunger also impacts children’s emotional and social development. They may be embarrassed by their circumstances and avoid developing strong social connections, which creates a sense of isolation.
Q: What do you wish more people knew about childhood hunger and the value of good nutrition in the early years?
Shara: There’s a misperception about childhood hunger in America. We think that we live in a country that’s too well off for people to be food insecure and that children will be fed in school so they will be nourished properly. That’s just not the case. Hunger is far more prevalent than we realize and it doesn’t always appear as we think.
Children are a vulnerable population when it comes to malnutrition. They need more nutrients per body size than adults do. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein are crucial to a well nourished, properly growing child.
Peggy: Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed and proper nutrition is a vital building block for our children’s successes.
Michelle: I wish more people understood the importance of balanced nutrition — and how many children are hungry or food insecure. I also wish there were more resources available to families in need.
Q: One initiative providing resources to families in need is Bucks Knocks Out Hunger. Peggy, you and your kids will be volunteering together for the fifth year in a row next week. Why do you support this project?
Peggy: I can’t imagine what it must feel like to not be able to provide food for my children. It breaks my heart to think about it and it breaks my heart to know that it is a reality for so many parents in Bucks County. So I help in the ways that I can.
It is important to me that my kids know that we all have a responsibility to help those in our community. I also want them to feel a part of something bigger than themselves or their small circle. BKO Hunger has become that “something bigger” for us.

How to help the BKO effort
Bucks Knocks Out Hunger, United Way of Bucks County’s annual mass meal packing event, will be held June 22 at Delaware Valley University. Donations to support the project are accepted online at www.uwbucks.org/bkohunger and through coin canisters in organizations throughout the county (a list of locations is available at theintell.com and buckscountycouriertimes.com). Contributions also may be made at branches of Penn Community Bank or by mailing a check (note BKO Hunger on the memo line) to United Way, 413 Hood Blvd., Fairless Hills, PA 19030.

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