By Erik Talkin, author of Lulu and the Hunger Monster
Food insecurity (when a family doesn’t always have enough healthy food for the whole month) is a situation that can lead people to feel disempowered. When children are put in this situation, they feel even less able than adults to do something to change it. Yet, as was shown by nine-year-old hunger advocate Mia in the video below, there are things kids can do to help themselves, classmates, or friends who may be hungry. But to do so, they need to take a LEAP.
LEAP, which stands for Learn, Empathize, Act, Persist, reminds us what kids can do to take action against hunger. In this post, I want to dig a little deeper into how children and the adults in their lives can make the most of these responses.
It’s hard for a child or an adult to help with a problem if they don’t first understand a little about the issues. Children can be encouraged to ask tough questions like, Why do adults and the government allow there to be hungry kids in America, even though there’s plenty of food around? The very youngest children need to be protected from such consideration, but as children reach the age of six and beyond, they can be encouraged to look at the outside world in a more critical and constructive way.
Even though hunger is often an invisible problem, there is plenty of information available about the challenging truth of it. You can direct children to resources such as Feeding America and No Kid Hungry, national organizations with helpful websites that focus on issues and stories related to childhood hunger, or explore these sites with them. The stories are particularly important, because statistics can be meaningless for children who might struggle to place them in a personal context. But it is a good idea for young children to remember one number: one kid in seven is hungry in America. They can look around at how many people are in their classroom and imagine that.
This is really the crux of the matter. Food insecure kids need understanding almost as much as they need food. Hunger is a socially complex issue. Unlike classic medical conditions, childhood food insecurity carries a significant stigma. When kids realize that embarrassment and awkwardness create additional problems on top of the physical symptoms of hunger, that awareness, and the empathy it brings, can lead to powerful social and emotional learning.
It can help to get children to imagine times when they had a problem and someone helped them. Did they feel awkward and like they were “not enough”? Kids can also write little scenes imagining what problems they would have if they were hungry. You can introduce the concept of feeling tired or cranky when you are hungry and use kids’ understanding of those feelings to begin laying the groundwork for empathizing with someone who may have no choice but to be hungry.
This is the meat in the sandwich—the chance for children to help others. They might help their own friends or neighbors, in which case they need to act or share food in a neutral way without embarrassing the other person.
Once you’re helping the people you know, you can begin to cast a wider net to help everyone in your town.
A class can organize a food drive to collect healthy food to give to a local food bank. A garden can be started at home or at school to grow more healthy food for people. Even in the age of COVID-19, families are still volunteering at food pantries. These organizations may need help more urgently than ever right now, not only because of increased food insecurity due to the financial impact of the virus, but also because their regular volunteers are often over 60 and therefore may be keeping themselves safe at home instead of volunteering. When students volunteer like this with their parents and caregivers, it helps broaden their awareness beyond the home or classroom and offers a chance for valuable family engagement. Kids get to see the results of their action.
Persistence pays, so goes the old motto. It is certainly the only thing that will truly eradicate the underlying causes of food insecurity at the community level. We all want our children to be thoughtful and caring members of society, but we don’t need to wait for them to grow up. There are lots of things kids can do now. I’m always inspired by this quote attributed to Anne Frank, a girl who had a lot to contend with but still found the strength to issue this rallying cry:
“Hunger is not a problem. It is an obscenity. How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
For more information on how to empower kids around food insecurity, please refer to A Leader’s Guide to Lulu and the Hunger Monster, available as a download from the Free Spirit website.
Erik Talkin is also a writer and filmmaker and has served as a principal in two production companies. His short film The Gallery, starring Helena Bonham Carter, was selected for the London Film Festival. He has won an International Television Association Award for writing and directing educational drama, and his theatrical work has been produced on the London Fringe. Erik lives in Santa Barbara, California.
Erik is the author of Lulu and the Hunger Monster. To support Hunger Action Month, 5 percent of book proceeds in September 2020 will be donated to Feeding America.
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