CINCINNATI — For thousands of Cincinnati Public Schools students, time away from the classroom also means missing out on a guaranteed breakfast and lunch each day.
That’s why the nonprofit Childhood Food Solutions sent 8,300 sacks of calorie-dense food home with students before Christmas to keep their stomachs full over winter break.
Then they took another step to reach Cincinnati families in need, delivering dozens of additional sacks to four public health clinics in the city.
“We were trying to hit the kids that we are missing in the neighborhoods, that were suffering but are not in our neighborhood schools,” said Lisa Hyde-Miller, the co-founder of Childhood Food Solutions and chair of the nonprofit’s board.
The Bobbie Sterne Health Center in Over-the-Rhine, formerly known as Elm Street Health Center, was among the recipients.
“We have quite a few families who struggle with food insecurity,” health center manager Gauri Wadhwa said.
Without the food from Childhood Food Solutions, some nurses at the health center give away their own lunches when patients are hungry, she said.
“Being able to have that resource was huge for us,” Wadhwa said. “Everyone we offered the sacks to was very grateful and very appreciative.”
Childhood Food Solutions was able to provide the sacks of food thanks to grants from the Charles H. Dater Foundation and another foundation that wished to remain anonymous, said executive director Tony Fairhead.
“When people give us money, they want us to feed kids,” Fairhead said.
The idea to distribute food sacks through city health clinics was born from a trip that Hyde-Miller and Fairhead took in 2018.
‘Too much need here’
They went to New Orleans to attend a conference focused on grassroots efforts to address hunger and family health problems, Hyde-Miller said.
A group from Iowa talked about how it had been able to reach families that it was otherwise missing in neighborhoods by distributing food through health clinics, Hyde-Miller said.
When Childhood Food Solutions ended up with more money for its winter break food distribution than usual, the organization’s board decided to spend the funds to distribute food to an additional two schools and to expand efforts into the clinics, Fairhead said.
In all, Childhood Food Solutions gave sacks of food to 4,600 students in a dozen schools located in five different Cincinnati ZIP codes, he said.
“Over 20 percent of the food insecure kids of Cincinnati are now receiving our sacks,” he said. “And our dream is that suddenly the reading scores will get better in those schools and the math scores will get better in those schools. And we also want to see health benefits.”
Fairhead and Hyde-Miller noted that the need is much greater, however. Of Cincinnati Public Schools’ nearly 36,000 students, more than 84 percent have low enough incomes to qualify for the free school lunch program. Another 1 percent of students qualify for reduced-priced school meals, according to school district figures.
Fairhead said he hopes expanding Childhood Food Solutions’ work to local health clinics will help increase awareness about how many families worry about having enough food for their children.
“We’ve got four clinic staffs who have had an opportunity to help a few people that they might not have been able to help in this way,” he said. “And also to hopefully become our allies in saying, ‘Wait a minute -- there’s too much need here.’”
Ultimately, increasing awareness of the problem will go a lot farther than the sacks of food themselves, Fairhead said.
“We’re going to figure this out,” he said. “One way or another.”
More information about Childhood Food Solutions is available online.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.