In late September the US Census Bureau released information on American poverty levels prepared from the data collected for the 2010 census, including the latest findings on poverty in America. The data shows that South Carolina’s population has 11.20% living below the poverty level, compared to a national average of 9.6%. Richland County’s poverty rate is exactly the same as the national average, but some counties like Darlington (22.3%) and Marion (23%) are over twice the national level.
For me the most startling numbers tell us how many children in South Carolina are living below the poverty level. Almost 30% of children ages five or younger in our state live below the poverty level. Almost 22% of children ages five through seventeen in our state live below the poverty level. Every night in South Carolina, one out of every four children under the age of five goes to bed hungry.
For too many children in our state, the meals they are served during the school day are the most dependable and most nutritious they receive. They count on the breakfasts and lunches they sit down to eat in their school cafeterias. They look forward to going to school because they know they will get the food their parents are often find difficulty in providing. And equally, they worry what they will have to eat when they go home, and if they will go hungry over the weekend. To help meet their needs and ease their fears, Harvest Hope provides supplementary nutrition and meals to hungry children with three different programs: Kids Cafe, Backpack and Snack Sack programs.
These are after-school charitable meal programs for children ages six to eighteen who have been identified as being at risk of hunger. These programs provide meals to low-income children through a variety of community locations where children can safely congregate—such as Boys and Girls Clubs, churches, community centers and public schools. At our Kids Cafe locations, Harvest Hope delivers food to community partners who prepare hot meals and serve the children. The kids get more than just meals at these sites. It’s a nurturing and structured environment where they can participate in safe educational, recreational and social activities such as homework assistance, tutoring, and arts and crafts projects.
Kid’s Cafe sites operate after-school and so are closed over the weekend. To make sure that kids get a nutritional boost between Friday afternoon and the next Monday morning, Harvest Hope is fortunate to have many valuable partners across our 20 county service area. These community partners, many of whom are churches, coordinate with schools and assist in our 28 Backpack and fifteen Snack Sack sites to provide easy-to-prepare, kid-friendly meals that children take home on Fridays to supplement their nutritional needs through the weekend. In the past, Harvest Hope provided just schools in our service area with kid-friendly food and empty backpacks or snacksacks which the schools would then fill. Guidance counselors and teachers identify at-risk kids and discretely ensure they get their designated food to take home, and then collect the Backpacks when they return on Monday.
Just recently, Harvest Hope has been fortunate to find partnerships with a number of committed churches who are dedicated to helping us in our mission to feed hungry school children. Our pantry trucks deliver food on a monthly basis to these churches, who then use members of their congregations to fill Backpacks with the food and then deliver them on Thursdays or Fridays to our partnering schools, picking up the empty backpacks on the following Monday.
We are grateful for these local churches, some in rural, hard-to-reach areas, who have come to us and showed their commitment to helping get food to children in need. We want to expand these partnerships, and find more church partners who will include Harvest Hope’s Backpack program as part of their congregation’s mission work. If you think your congregation would like to find out more about working with us to reduce the number of children going to bed hungry every night, then call Erica Cheeks at (803) 254-4432 extension 1102 and let her tell you how we can work together.
If you would like to help us feed hungry children in South Carolina and ensure brighter tomorrows for so many of our young, would you consider making a donation right now through our website to help Harvest Hope continue providing these critical services? Just click here to visit our convenient Donations page: http://www.harvesthope.org/donatenow.aspx
Together we can continue to make a difference in the lives of children and help them grow to become the future stewards of grace, kindness and compassion.
CEO, Harvest Hope Food Bank
Children are one third of our population and all of our future. ~Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health, 1981
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. ~Frederick Douglass