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Children Are Hungry in Washtenaw County, And You Can Help

More than 300,000 children in southeast Michigan don't get enough to eat, negatively impacting health, learning and more.

In our land of plenty, hunger continues to be a problem.

One in four Michigan children lives in poverty, and that puts them at risk of not getting enough food.

Nearly half the people Food Gatherers of Ann Arbor helps—at least 40 percent— are children younger than 18. Sadly, that need is far from being filled.

Food Gathreres actively works to eradicate hunger, targeting all of Washtenaw County. Last year it provided 5.6 million pounds of food to hungry families via its 150 partner agencies. Of that amount, 18 percent of donations were protein, and 37 percent included fresh produce.

"Our focus is not only on feeding families, it's also about providing fresh and healthy food," Mary Schlitt, director of development and marketing for Food Gatherers said. "Low income families usually buy the cheapest food, which isn't typically healthy. The result is more low income people suffering from obesity, type II diabetes, and chronic illness that can relate back to what they are eating."

According to Schlitt, last year 10,920 children, or 1 in 6, were "food insecure" in Washtenaw County based on data from Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap study.

"That number has decreased 16 percent from 2009, when we saw unprecedented numbers due to the economic recession," she said. "The number of adults who are food insecure continues to remain steady."

Schlitt said the biggest concentration of hunger is in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, however issues are prevalent in rural communities as well.

"Hunger isn't just an urban problem," she said. "Groups like Faith in Action in Chelsea and the Manchester Social Services work hard to make sure the needs of their communities are met."

Natalie Fotias, marketing manager for Gleaners Food Bank in Detroit, said hunger has a significant impact on a child's ability to concentrate and focus in school.

"Hunger isn’t just a gnawing pain in a child’s belly," she said. “Kids that are hungry can’t focus in the classroom, (and) studies show they lag behind their peers and typically aren’t able to make that gap up later in life.”

According to Fotias, in 2011 more than 317,000 children across southeast Michigan qualified for free or reduced fee lunches -- about 3,000 more than 2010. Kids Count in Michigan data shows that from 2006 to 2009 the number of students who qualified for reduced-cost school lunches jumped 26 percent, and 45.8 percent of Michigan students qualified.

One way to help alleviate hunger, Schlitt said, is to donate to local food banks year-round.

Schlitt said Food Gatherers spend roughly $1 million in food purchases every year. Other food is made available through the food rescue program, which consists of area restaurants donating usable food items to distribute to hungry families.

"We always see a lot of positive response from communities during the holidays, but hunger is a year-round problem," she said. "We really rely on our food rescue programs and community donations to help people in need."

How can you help? Join Patch in our virtual food drive, which runs through Nov. 24. Click here to help! Then share this with your friends and family.

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