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Mondays and Thursdays…those are the hungriest days in Ferndale’s Grant Early Childhood Center. Mondays, due to the limited food the kids get at home over the weekend; Thursdays because kids gobble up what they can, preparing for the days of slim pickings ahead.
“The children come from low-income, high-risk families,” says their Head Start/Great Start Readiness Program teacher. “A lot of our children don’t seem to get enough food at home.”
Food insecurity hits both sides of the age spectrum. Sherry, a senior citizen from Warren, talks about the profound pleasure of going to bed knowing breakfast is an option in the morning. “I actually know I can wake up and have a piece of toast in the morning if I need to. It was so bad, I had no bread. I had nothing in my refrigerator. If it wasn’t for Gleaners, I may have gone hungry.”
While the economy shows signs of improvement, many of our most vulnerable still need help with the basics. Health care, loss or lack of a partner and unemployment are the top three reasons for hunger, making certain populations, namely seniors and children, particularly vulnerable.
Seniors like Sherry often have to make the tough call between food and medicine, or between food and other basic living expenses. When someone has to pay for medical care, food is the first thing off the table, says Detroit’s Haloise Walker. Walker lives in an apartment complex with 200 seniors and disabled adults and oversees their monthly Gleaners distribution. “It’s really hard to afford food,” Walker said.
It’s a slippery slope. When seniors skip meals to pay medical bills, they run the risk of needing more medical attention, as hungry seniors are more likely to be hospitalized and to have chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes than their well-nourished peers.
Seven percent of those that Gleaners serves are seniors; At least 40 percent are kids.
A recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation estimated that 67 percent of Detroit’s children live in poverty, making Detroit’s kids the poorest in the nation. When kids are hungry, they get sick and miss school more often. They struggle to grow and develop physically, and don’t recover as quickly from illness. Gleaners’ reaches hungry kids through several programs, including: school-based mobile pantries, BackPacks, SmartBites, Cooking Matters and summer lunches.
In Ferndale’s Grant Early Childhood Center, the children say a lot of “please” and “thank you,” their teacher notes. “I am so proud of my children and all of their accomplishments.”
Learn more about Gleaners' child feeding programs at www.gcfb.org/programs