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Food for Thought: FL Teachers Feed Hungry Children to Improve Learning

December 10, 2009

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - One in five Florida children comes to school hungry, even more kids are on free and reduced lunch programs, and many are just too hungry to learn. That's according to a new report from Share Our Strength, a nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood hunger. The report author surveyed educators and found 63 percent say they buy food for their students with their own money.

Florida Education Association spokesperson Mark Pudlow says teachers often feel called to help their students, even when they themselves may be struggling financially.

"You see teachers reaching into their pocketbooks to come up with food for kids, or supplies for kids. Teachers don't make great salaries, so this is just an example of how dedicated they are."

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 17 million children nationwide are not getting enough to eat at home. Pudlow says being well-nourished is critical to learning. The report found three-fourths of teachers surveyed say ending hunger in the classroom should be a national priority.

Teachers like Amanda Whittaker say many of her fifth graders in Tallahassee are lethargic, unable to concentrate and suffer headaches from hunger.

"No matter what school you go to, what area of town, what kind of community you're in, there is a hunger issue. It's not something that's happening in countries across the seas, it's something that's happening here in America, too."

While there are free lunch programs and "backpack programs" that send food home on weekends, Whittaker says many families don't ask for help. She says teachers can identify hungry students, help them get assistance and build food into their lesson plans.

"It's going to take a toll on your pocketbook. It's going to take a toll on your emotions, and on your energy, but in the end, the return on investment more than exceeds the sacrifice that you make."

The full report is available at www.strength.org/teachers.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL