Guest editorial: Visit with 3rd graders shows Texas Hunger Initiative impact

Twenty-six percent of children in Texas live in households that, at times, lack access to food needed for a healthy, active lifestyle. That’s one in four Texas children. But the Texas Hunger Initiative is working to improve those numbers. (Photo: Charis Dietz / Texas Hunger Initiative)

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I spoke to Camp Thundercub, a character-education program at South Bosque Elementary School in Waco, a few weeks ago. My kids attend South Bosque Elementary, and the school counselor asked if I would come and talk to third graders about my career. I’m the research director for Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative. So, I showed third graders pictures of my office and told them about how I spend my days. I got to tell them about two of my passions coming together—research and helping others—and how I get to use math and science to serve my neighbors better.

KathyKrey 150Kathy KreyAs you’d expect from an inquisitive group of third graders, after telling them some of the day-to-day details of my job, I got to field plenty of questions. I answered one observant student by saying, “Yes, it kind of does seem like most of what I do is go to meetings.”

Through other thoughtful questions, I was able to tell them there really are kids in the United States, in Texas and in Waco who don’t have enough to eat. While I spared my third-grade audience some of these details, the reality is 26 percent of children in Texas live in households that, at times, lack access to food needed for a healthy, active lifestyle. That’s one in four Texas children. In McLennan County, that number is almost 28 percent.

Feeding students

Hearing of this problem distressed these third graders. It’s distressing for me. But, thankfully, I didn’t have to leave them on that note. I got to tell them I’m proudly part of an effort to lower these numbers—and I’m not alone. Each school day, Texas schools serve more than a million breakfasts and lunches. Share Our Strength and the Social Innovation Fund allow the Texas Hunger Initiative to connect with school districts to support the school breakfast program. In La Vega Independent School District alone, more than 1,200 breakfasts are served—every day.

And, just recently, the Summer Meals Program kicked off across the state. Individuals and organizations at every level are coming together to provide breakfast and lunch to students who usually have those meals at school and might not have access to them while school is out for the summer.

Through a generous partnership with the Walmart Foundation, we—the Texas Hunger Initiative—work to increase participation in the Summer Meals Program and to help bridge the gap in meal access that exists between school years. In the summer of 2015, 21.5 million meals were served to children and teens in Texas. In Waco, the collaboration around summer meals is remarkable. Schools, churches, nonprofits and volunteers all come together to serve individuals and families in our community. Last summer, 240,000 meals were served in McLennan County.

Camp Thundercub

I ended my time with Camp Thundercub by telling the students I feel I have a responsibility to my neighbor—my neighbor down the street, in a different city or across the country. And, for me, character means honoring that responsibility every day and working hard to solve the big problems—hunger and poverty—we face.

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As I left, I realized my speech that morning was a good character education lesson for myself. It was a reminder that character matters, and I’m working for the common good—not because it’s fun or a group tells me to, but because it’s good. And I live in a community where schools and churches and volunteers come together, because it’s good.

That was a helpful reminder in a season where there’s so much dissension flying around. So, thank you, South Bosque third graders, for being such an attentive audience. And thank you, Counselor Burns, for the lesson in character education.

Kathy Krey is director of research for the Texas Hunger Initiative, located in Baylor University’s Diana Garland School of Social Work, where she oversees a diverse portfolio of research and evaluation projects on food-security topics. She has served as a university research analyst and adjunct faculty member and worked for management and technology consulting firms as a marketing communications professional.

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