Michael D. Clark reports:
There’s an increasingly common ritual at suburban schools on Fridays.
It has nothing to do with football games or pep rallies. Instead, more and more kids are picking up bags of food to make sure they don’t go hungry over the weekend.
These programs are a response to the historical shift – a lingering consequence of the housing bubble – as America’s poverty moves from urban centers to its suburbs.
Programs like the one at at Kings Mills Elementary in Warren County’s Deerfield Township, where volunteers stuff Friday backpacks with vacuum-packed meals and snacks, were largely non-existent before 2008. But the nation’s plunge into recession and sluggish economic recovery have seen them spread through even the most affluent suburbs.
In Greater Cincinnati, suburban poverty increased by 83 percent from 2000 to 2011, according to a recent Brookings Institution study.
Moreover, the number of people living in poverty in suburbs in Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana in 2011 was 214,188, up from 116,975 in 2000, according to a Brookings’ analysis of U.S. Census data.
Christy Davis, a single mother of four students in Kings Schools, says she is “very grateful” for the weekend meals.
“It helps us a lot. And it may not seem like a lot to most people but to us it makes a big difference,” says Davis.
Not only growing, but growing fast
Beyond the obvious humanitarian motivation, school officials also have some healthy self-interest in mind. They want their poorest students fed and ready to learn on Monday mornings.
Still, the growing need for such programs “is disheartening,” says Lebanon Schools Superintendent Mark North, whose weekend food recipients have more than doubled in recent years.
“We put on students a lot of expectations on what they should be doing in schools to be successful, but we have a lot of children who do not have regular meals. And then these children are expected to hit the ground running right away, along with other children who have had the basics,” says North.
In contrast to the historical urban centers of poverty, where resources are accessible to the poor, suburban communities are often isolated from help, leaving many to lean on faith communities or schools for help, say local food pantry providers.
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