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Number of Hungry Kids in Missouri Remains Stagnant

More than half of Missouri's children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. (Virginia Carter)
More than half of Missouri's children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. (Virginia Carter)
April 24, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Those leading the battle against hunger in Missouri say the number of children who are food insecure can be reduced, but it's going to take teamwork.

Three out of four teachers in the Show Me State say their students regularly come to school hungry, yet the majority of children who are eligible for the breakfast program aren't taking advantage of it.

Jon Barry, director of No Kid Hungry Missouri, says if every community in the state participated in federal programs such as Grab and Go Breakfast, Breakfast in the Classroom and Second Chance Breakfast, along with after school snacks and summer meals, the number of food insecure children would drop.

"These programs are not impossible to implement,” he stresses. “They're proven, they've been around since after World War II and they are designed to ensure that healthy, nutritious food is put into the hands and mouths and bellies of those who need it most."

Barry says there needs to be more education in communities around the state about funding that's available to implement food programs. He says schools with a free and reduced-price eligible population of at least 60 percent can apply for funding to cover the cost of equipment such as rolling carts, kiosks and insulated bags.

More than half of Missouri's children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and Barry says it's not just a big city problem.

"The 10 counties with the highest rates of free and reduced kids are, in no particular order, Cedar, Benton, Morgan, Dent, Shannon, Washington, Mississippi, Pemiscot, Dunklin and St. Louis," he points out.

Barry says the hunger rate in Missouri hasn't changed much despite some improvements in the economy. He adds children who eat breakfast miss less school, get better grades and are more likely to graduate high school.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO