Mara Bellaby: How you can help ensure children don’t go to bed hungry

Our family is one of the fortunate ones.

When we talk about the difference between wants and needs with our elementary school-age son, it’s a theoretical conversation. Wants? A phone so he can keep up with his friends on TikTok (he’s not getting one anytime soon!). Needs? A healthy meal; a roof over our heads.

My son has never gone to bed hungry or opened a cupboard to find it bare. When we’re at the supermarket and I say no, it’s usually because the food item is full of sugar or dyes — not because we can’t afford it. Not because I’m trying to balance rent and car payments and childcare and something has to give.

We’re among the fortunate ones.

Unfortunately, in Brevard County, being one of the fortunate ones also puts my son in the minority.

Some 54 percent of the students in our schools qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, according to the Children’s Hunger Project. That means their families need help fulfilling those basic needs.

Think about that for a second.

Needs. Not wants. Needs as in food. As in ensuring a child isn’t distracted from learning and growing because of an empty stomach.

While the free and reduced lunch program helps during the week, what about weekends?

That’s where the Children’s Hunger Project and the Sharing Center of Central Brevard come in. Through what’s colloquially known as the “backpack project,” they deliver 1,500 food packs to 35 elementary schools every week. Thanks to volunteers, they have not missed a week since starting in 2010.

That’s 1,500 kids who get to focus on things children should focus on over the weekend. That’s 1,500 children who won’t go to bed hungry.

But the need is greater.

This January, as they have in years past, both organizations will join forces for the 2020 Health First Fight Child Hunger 5K Run/Walk. It’s a chance for the community to convene and do something healthy while supporting a critical need in Brevard County.

Get that date on your calendar now. It’s Jan. 11, 2020, at Viera High School.

Lorraine Jones, who serves on the community advisory board for Children’s Hunger Project, said it was a statistic about the number of children going hungry in Brevard that prompted her to get involved back around 2011.

“I started to cry,” Jones said recalling that she immediately pictured her granddaughter.

“I was thinking about what it would be like if she had no food. Obviously, a child can’t go get help themselves. This is a community issue. I decided I needed to get involved.”

Jones said one of the most important things she can do is educate people.

If you understand the problem exists, how can you not do something about it?

One hundred percent of proceeds from the Health First Fight Child Hunger 5K go to feed hungry children.

My family will be there. I hope yours will be, too.

This is something we can all do together, to show Brevard County we care and we are committed to making a difference.

Stay tuned as we, at FLORIDA TODAY, bring you more information not only about the need but about all that’s being done.

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