The start of the school year brings many good things to the children of Lee County.
A fresh opportunity to learn.
An ability to choose among specialized programs that foster an array of interests and talents.
The chance to take part in a wealth of related activities, from clubs to athletics.
For too many children, it's also a guarantee of something that every child throughout America should enjoy all year long -a good breakfast and lunch.
Hunger remains a serious concern in our community where 16 percent of our neighbors live in poverty. The percentage for children is higher: It's more than 26 percent.
What that means is prevalent "food insecurity," the worry about whether there will be enough - or anything- to eat come mealtime.
Nearly all of Lee County's schools qualified again for the Community Eligibility Program, which gives every student who attends these schools the opportunity to receive a free breakfast and lunch. Recognizing the need, the half dozen schools that did not qualify still provide a free school breakfast to all students who want one.
The Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida estimates that, in the five-county area it serves, nearly 164,000 people are "food insecure." An estimated 54,870 are children. Nationwide, those numbers rise to 48 million, including 15 million kids.
It's a societal ill, and, according to one national organization, a health issue as well.
"Adequate nutrition is essential for a strong foundation in life," said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America in a release shared by the Harry Chapin Food Bank last Thursday. "Children who do not have access to a healthy diet don't have the energy or ability to learn, grow and ultimately succeed. We must come together and take action now-our children cannot continue to 'run on empty.'"
Feeding America and organizations across the country, including Harry Chapin, will take part in Hunger Action Month, an annual awareness campaign that kicked off Sept. 1.
Those who want to participate can join its social media initiative.
Wear orange, Hunger Action Month's color, and grab an empty paper plate. Complete the sentence: "On an empty stomach, I can't ___________." on one side and the sentence "But I can _____________ to help end hunger" on the other.
Post your selfies to Facebook and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org where they will be shared. Suggested hashtags are #HungerAction-Month, @Feeding America, and @harrychapinfoodbank.
Those who want to help directly can visit harrychapinfoodbank.org to check for events and get info on how to volunteer.
The site also accepts donations, which can really make an impact: Every dollar donated allows the group to buy the equivalent of $6 worth of food for distribution throughout our community.
It's a terrible thing when kids go to school hungry.
And it's happening in our backyard.
Let's take awareness to the next step this month by taking action. Let's fill some empty plates.
- Eagle editorial