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Weekend Meals, Fresh Food: Forum Examines the Needs of Ohio's Hungry Kids

PHOTO: Child nutrition experts are gathering in Columbus today to examine hunger among Ohio's children: its influences, its outcomes, and possible solutions. Photo courtesy of Feeding America.
November 18. 2014
PHOTO: Child nutrition experts are gathering in Columbus today to examine hunger among Ohio's children: its influences, its outcomes, and possible solutions. Photo courtesy of Feeding America.

COLUMBUS, Ohio - With high levels of food insecurity among Ohio's kids, experts from around the state will brainstorm this week on ways to keep children from going hungry.

Jennifer Steele, director of community partnerships with the Freestore Foodbank, is among those due to speak at the Ohio Child Nutrition Forum in Columbus on Tuesday. She says she will share the challenges her organization faces relying on fundraising and private dollars to run their backpack and summer food programs.

"Many kids are going without food they desperately need, because we're not able to increase the level of programming to meet the need without some sustainable funds that could be provided through state or federal money," says Steele.

At the federal level, the Child Nutrition Program is up for reauthorization next year. Steele says the program can bring flexible funding into nutrition programs that work, including free and reduced priced school meals, the Women Infants and Children program (WIC), and weekend meal programs.

She adds that strengthening the program is crucial to helping the estimated one-in-four Ohio children who don't always know where their next meal will come from.

Nora Balduff, director of child and senior nutrition with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, says the forum is an opportunity for those who work in child nutrition programs to share what's happening in their own communities, and discuss solutions.

"Kids need three meals a day, every single day," she says. "Many kids are not getting that food on the weekends, which is something we see and something schools see on Monday mornings. So Child Nutrition Reauthorization is a real opportunity to do something about that."

At the state level, Steele says the Ohio Food Program and Agricultural Clearance Program similarly needs to be strengthened. The program provides fresh, locally-grown foods to food banks.

"Low-income families who are working off a limited food budget often are going to buy the foods that are the cheapest and the most readily available," says Steele. "Fresh produce often gets missed because they can't afford it."

She adds that poor nutrition has consequences, including increased health costs and lower productivity at school and work. There is a $40 million state budget request for the program over the 2016-2017 biennium.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH