Even as vaccinations advance in the United States, the effects of the coronavirus crisis are likely to affect millions of kids this summer. 1 in 6 kids is living with hunger this year, a number higher than before the pandemic.
Jose Carranza, a Colombian immigrant and father of a six-year-old girl at Northmore Elementary in West Palm Beach, Fla., works at the school. His family never struggled to ensure their daughter had the food she needed, but when the pandemic hit, his wife lost her job.
“At the beginning, we were very worried, but we had just enough to eat.” Carranza shared, “We had to use the assistance of school meals and that has been a blessing. Income has been a big worry because we still have to pay bills.”
Carranza had to find a second job in an auto parts retailer, and now he works seven days a week to supplement his family’s income. He knows that limits his time with his daughter, but he understands it’s something he must do.
“I really enjoy the little bit of time that I have with them, especially my daughter,” said Carranza.
The coming months will be especially difficult for his family. Carranza’s hours at the school are reduced during the summer, and he has to find supplemental income. The Carranza family is also now expecting their second child. They feel blessed and excited, but Liliana, Jose Carranza’s wife, is avoiding getting a job while pregnant with the coronavirus still infecting people.
And he sees families in his neighborhood struggling during this time as well.
“During summer a lot of families suffer. Because schools are closed and parents have to work, they don’t know where to leave their kids. In school, the kids receive lunch and snacks, but in the summer things are harder. It’s traumatic for some families,” he shared.
Teachers have also noticed the challenges families continue to face because of the pandemic.
Shara Self is the kind of teacher kids love. She teaches 4th grade science and math at Northmore and is known for her lively class environment and creative ideas. Every year, when teaching units of measurement, she introduces the gallon man as her boyfriend. Kids love it.
“I do try to make learning as fun as possible for my students. I believe that a child learns when they're enjoying their learning environment,” shared Shara.
The last year and a half has been challenging for Shara, herself a mother of four, and her students. Even though most of them are back in the classroom, Shara remembers the challenges and struggles many of them faced while learning remotely.
On one occasion, while sharing a virtual lunch with her students, she noticed one of them wasn’t eating anything. Shara asked her about it privately to avoid drawing attention from other students. She said there was nothing in the house to eat.
“When she told me she didn’t have anything, my heart just sank, so I went in my wallet,” said Shara.
She ordered a pizza and had it delivered to her student.
“I just wanted her to know that at that moment she was definitely going to have something to eat. But we're going to try to put something in place so that she wouldn't go hungry any other day,” added Shara.
She went on to remind all students about the food distribution programs the school district had in place.
The Palm Beach School District had a thorough meal distribution program, and they will continue this summer. Allison Monbleau, school food service director at the district, explained that since the beginning of the pandemic they have served over 24 million meals.
During the pandemic, No Kid Hungry urged the USDA to waive restrictions on how meals are served. Monbleau is grateful for those changes - now parents can pick up food without their children and eat the meals at home.
Even with incredible food distribution efforts in the district and caring teachers like Shara, this summer will be incredibly challenging for many families. The pandemic has left millions of parents out of work.
And many kids across the US won’t have access to a teacher like Shara who can remind them about summer meal programs. That’s why at No Kid Hungry, we are spreading the word about free summer meals for families.
The meals are available for all kids and teens, no questions asked. Just text the word “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 304-304 or go to our Free Meal Finder Map to find free meals near you. Help us spread the word to ensure no kid experiences hunger during this challenging summer.