Hunger in South Jersey – Our Most Vulnerable Need Our Help
Every day in South Jersey, more than 200,000 people are unsure as to when and how they will get their next meal. Of that number, 35 percent are children, who after eating at school may come home to an empty plate.
While hunger is a tremendous struggle for an individual at any age, children and seniors are at a distinct disadvantage for many reasons – they may be unable to work or to drive, cannot easily access / purchase groceries on their own, and / or have limited access to resources. These hurdles, combined with an overall heightened reliance on others to make sure they get enough to eat, can make food-insecurity a seemingly insurmountable problem. The three JFCS Betsy and Peter Fischer Food Pantries served nearly 7,000 last year, and continues to answer the call for help this year.
The damage caused by lack of nutrition to the sensitive, immature body systems of young people is apparent and documented. Hunger has been observed to cause depression, anxiety, and withdrawal, all of which are obstructions to a child trying to focus on education. Hunger can also cause behavioral problems. In a classroom setting, a single child’s behavior can affect the rest of the students, the teacher’s attention, and the overall learning atmosphere. In this case, hunger not only disturbs the affected child’s learning, but the learning of others as well.
Young people in a laboratory study that involved healthy, well-nourished school-aged children found a negative effect of morning fasting on cognitive performance. A test of the speed and accuracy of response on problem-solving tasks given to children who did or did not eat breakfast found that skipping breakfast had an adverse influence on their performance on the tests. While these were isolated laboratory studies, for many children who struggle to have enough food, these are everyday mornings of hunger and lack of nutrients.
“I used to be too embarrassed to ask for help. I know that everyone struggles, but I felt that I was somehow weak because I needed help with food for a time,” said JFCS client Gwen*. “But after my son Levy came home and told me he didn’t want to go to school lunch time anymore, I knew in my gut what the problem was. He simply told me it’s where his classmates, thinking about eating, would talk about what they had for dinner the night before. That it reminded him that sometimes we don’t have enough food for dinner and have to borrow groceries from family and neighbors. While I knew that our economic struggles were probably temporary, it was a very permanent part of his every day life.”
Gwen reached out to the JFCS Betsy and Peter Fischer Food Pantries for help, and she was able to bring home groceries for a few months while she looked for employment. She also received help with budgeting and a free legal consultation from the JFCS Rhona Fischer Family Assistance Program. With support from JFCS, she was able to bring peace of mind to her family, found a job, and now she and Levy are doing well.
While this is a success story, we can do more to help children like Levy. The JFCS Betsy and Peter Fischer Food Pantries need us to help fulfill the need that is before us. Our inventory is low at this point of the year. Please consider bringing canned, boxed and non-perishable food items to our office at 1301 Springdale Road, Cherry Hill, 08003. If you have questions, please contact Andi Loew at aloew@or call 856-424-1333, xt. 1180. We thank you in advance for your generosity.
*name has been changed to protect privacy.