By Matt Reese
A hungry child is hard to stomach.
It is hard to imagine in today’s society of excess and plenty that there are people — especially children — who regularly do not get enough food to meet basic nutritional needs. Yet, in every corner of Ohio, it is far too easy to find hungry children. Nationally, more than 13 million children live in food insecure homes and one in five children does not get the food they need every day. Three out of four teachers report that there are children in their classrooms who regularly come to school hungry.
The Belmont County Farm Bureau decided to tackle this problem head on in their corner of the state by cooperating with local efforts to provide food to children in need through county schools. Dairy farmer Devin Cain is helping coordinate the program.
“I had the privilege of going to Texas last year with DFA, our local milk co-op. We packaged meals down there for the homeless. All you have to do is boil water and add the package to the water and you have a hot nutritious meal. There is a two-year shelf life so it can be stored for a long time. Farm Bureau wanted to do a program with the school backpack program and I said, ‘I think I have an idea of what we can do.’ We are trying to raise $40,000 to package 22,222 meals. It costs $1.80 per package for six servings in a package,” Cain said. “There are currently 260 backpacks packaged per week in the four participating schools. All of the schools that I spoke to are very eager and happy to get these meals.”
In the boom or bust economy of southeastern Ohio, communities continue to struggle even with the influx of oil and gas money in recent years. There is still an unfortunate number of hungry young people in the region.
“Some of the stories they told me are so sad,” Cain said. “One kid hides all of his food in a broken down car in the backyard so his parents don’t eat it. Some kids don’t even have electric. I think the kids will be really pleased with the meals we are trying to package.”
The program seeks to fill in the gaps around school meals for students in need.
“If they go to school they are guaranteed meals to eat at school. On the weekends, some kids are home by themselves so they don’t have anything to eat. The three meals we are going to package are deluxe macaroni and cheese, instant apple cinnamon oatmeal and minestrone soup. We got to try all of these meals to see what they tasted like to make sure the kids would really like them,” Cain said. “We have until June 15 to collect the money. On July 20 we will meet at a local high school and these ingredients will come in bulk and we will have volunteers come and help package the meals for us.”
Belmont County Farm Bureau will be hosting the meal-packaging event on Saturday, July 20, starting at 1 p.m. at Union Local High School Gymnasium, located at 66779 Belmont Morristown Rd., Belmont, Ohio 43718 in participation with the Outreach Program. The meals will be used by Barnesville, Bellaire, St. Clairsville, and Union Local schools. A donation of $100 will provide 300 servings. After the meals are packaged, they will be stored and distributed according to each school’s need for their number of backpacks. For more information, please call the Belmont County Farm Bureau office at 740-425-3681.
All amounts are welcome with 100% of donations going to the meals. The Outreach Program is a 501(c) 3 organization so donations can be used as a tax write-off if desired. Donors will receive a letter from the Outreach Program with an explanation for taxes. Donations will be accepted until Saturday, June 15.