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OR Harvest Week: Kids Need Feds' Help to Fight Hunger

November 3, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. - This week, through Saturday, is Oregon Harvest Week, calling attention to the growing need for food assistance for lower-income families.

More than half the people who receive food stamps in Oregon are children, and more than 60 percent of kids in public schools now rely on free or reduced-price meals. School meals, food stamps and other federal food programs are reauthorized by Congress every five years. A vote to do that was supposed to take place this fall, but now looks like it won't happen until spring.

Dr. Dana Hargunani, assistant professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, is convinced that the programs make a difference.

"The data has spoken for itself that WIC and other food stamp programs have really been able to improve outcomes for children. I think it just allows families to have enough extra support to be able to get by, compared to those families who would have no support and are therefore facing hunger in the home."

Hargunani will share her views today in Portland at a round table discussion that also includes Governor Ted Kulongoski and U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon. Oregon has received bonus dollars from the federal government for the past three years as an award for outstanding administration of the food stamp program; the funds have been used to help more people access benefits.

Dr. Hargunani says one problem is that hunger is seen as a social issue, not as a public health problem. In the meantime, she says, going hungry affects almost every aspect of a child's life.

"They tend to get sicker more often; we know it has detrimental effects on mental health. Kids are more likely to have behavioral problems, aggression, anxiety or, in teenagers, more likely to be depressed. And we certainly know it has effects in school, and their ability to learn."

The Oregon Food Bank network reports record high numbers of families seeking emergency food this year. "Oregon Harvest Week" culminates with a dinner and dance on Saturday night in Portland to benefit the Food Bank. The ticket prices have been cut in half to prompt greater participation.

The round table is at 10:00 a.m. at the Parkrose School District building, 10636 N.E. Prescott St., Portland. Contact the Oregon Food Bank for information about the Harvest Dinner, at (503) 282-0555, ext. 221.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR