The Nap Times

Hello Everyone and welcome to the October 2023 Nap Times! Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner and a lot of schools are holding food drives, I thought it would be helpful to make a newsletter around talking to your kids about food insecurity. I promise this won't be a heavy newsletter (the world is heavy enough right now). I just thought it could be a helpful topic for anyone wanting to talk to their kids about the subject.
First off: What is food insecurity? Food insecurity is “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” I love this definition, namely because of the word “consistent” and “every person.” So many are working hard to have access to some food, but consistent access to enough food for the entire family is another story.
When I would hear words like “childhood hunger” in the past, I assumed that meant people in third-world countries, like the commercials you see on TV. But knowing what I know now, I realize that my children likely know someone, whether in their classroom, neighborhood, church, recreation center, etc. that does not have consistent access to nutritious foods. Statistically, 1 in 6 children don’t have enough to eat in the United States—that’s around 13 million kids. Isn't that crazy?!
I have a strong memory of growing up in downtown Charleston and having a woman and her kids come and ring our doorbell during dinner. To this day I don't know the details of the interaction between her and my mom, all I remember is that my mom went to our pantry and started to fill a grocery bag with our food, then went to the fridge and grabbed the two gallons of milk we had. She gave all of that food to the family who had knocked on the door (and I am guessing some money as well). I remember that the women was very normal looking, in jeans and a zip-up sweatshirt. Her boys were dressed similarly. They weren't gaunt or wearing rags for clothing; they looked like me.
I wanted to share a few ideas and resources to help talk to your kids about food insecurity, namely because it's a topic I am learning how to talk to my kids about as well. Some of the ideas below I have done, and many were kindly shared by my friends at the Lowcountry Food Bank. Food insecurity is so complex, and I am grateful to have people who understand it's complexities much better than I do to help with this newsletter. 
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Alexis is my main contact at the LCFB who keeps me up to date on biggest needs, upcoming food distributions, etc. Big thanks to Alexis for helping with the ideas in this newsletter and for all she does at the Lowcountry Food Bank!

  1. Ask questions. A great way to help kids empathize is simply to ask them questions. Ask them what they might feel like if they didn't get to have lunch one day. How would they feel? Would certain things be harder to do? Simply let them process for a bit what being hungry might feel like and why it would be hard.
  2. Help them see the need. Unless you are able to take them to a soup kitchen, it might be hard for them to see the faces of hunger (a bit more on this below in the stigma section). But kids are really, really good at imagining, and I bet if you paint the picture that there are kids in the community that don't have adequate access to food, they will be able to imagine fairly well. You could be at the store and say something like “What if we could only buy five items today? What do you think we would get?"
  3. Ask them what they think would be helpful. My guess is that they will say getting those people some food. And here's when you can get creative in how to help!
Feeding America has created a resource to use with your kids as you teach them what hunger looks and sounds like. It is designed for children aged 2-8 and has good conversation starters, writing and drawing prompts, and ideas on how to get your entire family involved in helping alleviate hunger in the community.

ways to help
  1. One easy way to help is to take a special trip to the store to purchase items for the food bank. Let your kids pick out items they love that they would want for other kids to enjoy. I know it might feel strange to buy something like Oreos for a food bank, but your kids need to see you buying things they love to help them connect that other kids are going to love it too. Yes, get the canned green beans, but also get some fun stuff! (By the way, Alexis said food donations are such an incredible way for kids especially to get involved because they understand food! They get giving someone five boxes of cereal in a way they cannot comprehend $5 verses $50. Food is more tangible for them.)
  2. To make this process last longer, you could consider picking up a few items for the food bank every time you go to the store. Like when they choose their favorite cereal or after school snack, say “should we get a box for the food bank as well?” That way it is a weekly reminder to your kids that other families need food all throughout the year. It simply keeps it top of mind. (NOTE: When possible, taking your kids to the local food bank is a great hands on way for them to serve their friends in the community. Including them in the entire process, from food collection – whether that be in your own pantry or going on a special grocery trip – to the actual drop off, is better for their understanding so it feels less like another errand and more like a special project they are helping with. This model is great for younger kids to grasp what helping alleviate hunger actually looks like.)
  3. Find a blessing box (or consider making one). If you google your town's name + “blessing box,” many places have them listed. You could also ask your local food bank or library. If there is one, you could buy items weekly and then drop them in the blessing box with your kids.
  4. Read books on food insecurity (see more on that below).
  5. If they want to donate money, they could have a lemonade stand, sell homemade cookies or bracelets (anything really!) and donate the money earned.
  6. Something really cool I learned about – most food banks have a digital option where you can select items through a virtual shopping experience or even make your own page and ask friends and family to “shop online.” This helps a child still understand the tangible side while also providing the most nutritious food. This model works best for older elementary school students and beyond.
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Visiting Mary's Market at Mary Ford Elementary, where families and people from the surrounding community are welcomed to come and shop for any groceries they need free of charge, no questions asked. 

Picture books and stories can help children create a basic framework for complex realities they may not otherwise be aware of. This can make broaching tough subjects a little easier, especially to just get the conversation started and introduce an idea they may have never (fortunately) thought about before. Here's four the Lowcountry Food Bank recommended. 
  • Maddi’s Fridge, by Lois Brandt
  • One Potato, Two Potato, by Cynthia DeFelice
  • Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen, by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan
  • All Are Neighbors – this book describes a community where everyone has a place and is loved and appreciated. It can help lead to discussions that no matter what you, your house, or your clothes look like, you matter. When we have a strong community with others supporting each other, we can holistically address more than just food.
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The Blessing Box located outside of Mary Ford Elementary. They left it full on Friday and by Monday morning (when I took this photo) it was completely empty. Ms. Washington says they refill it every 3 days!

removing the stigma
There is so much shame felt by parents who cannot afford to feed their kids or by kids who need to ask a teacher for a snack because they are hungry. Working with the food bank, one of the first things I noticed was how much dignity and respect they seek to give to everyone who walks in their doors. It really challenged me, and helped me realize that the best thing I can do is teach my kids that people who are suffering from food insecurity are the same as them, just in a hard situation. They need help. There are a million circumstances that could have landed this person in need of food (job loss, medical bills, generational poverty). 
Maybe some people are reading this and genuinely believe that the vast majority of people in their neighborhoods, their kids' schools, or their churches do not suffer from food insecurity. In fact, you may think: “I'm not sure I know anyone suffering from food insecurity. Or if I do, I had absolutely no idea." First off, you’re not alone, and you are hitting the nail on the head. Many people struggling with food insecurity are indistinguishable from people who are not.
It may also be that many of us live day to day lives that are separated from the daily struggles faced by so many. Nate and I are learning that one of the best ways to remove the stigma around food insecurity is to get our kids (and ourselves) around different types of people. As our kids meet different types of people, their “empathy muscles” will grow in a way that simply giving money or reading books can't match.
There is no one size fits all answer on how to do this, but it will probably take a concerted effort to get in environments (school, church, sports, camps, eating out, going to the park, etc.) where you will interact with different people on a level playing field (i.e., where you are eating a meal around the same table; not in a situation where you are serving food to someone in a soup kitchen). I guess what I'm saying is: what if the easiest way to eliminate the stigma surrounding food insecurity is to fight to eliminate stigma in general. That could be a whole other newsletter, and if I am honest I don’t feel qualified to write it, but it’s something Nate and I are talking about often.