The Duncan Banner

Opinion

June 26, 2012

Food helping hurting kids

DUNCAN — The letters of appreciation are touching. Accompanied by a small, but colorful drawing of a boy, one reads, “I’m thankful for you donating the food bag to my friend. It gives him energy and makes him happy because he has a bunch of food.”

Another, with stick figures of three youngsters, reads, “Thank you for the food bag for my frinds. Thank you so much. I hope you will have a grate summer. I wish I could give you somthing. It will help my frinds.”

And a third, with stick figures each holding a bag, reads, “Thank you for giving my friends food bags. Your donation of the food bags gives my friends food for the weekend. If we did not have nice people they would not have food. Thanks again for helping my friends.”

The stories are heart wrenching.

An elementary school boy, who took home a food bag, returned it empty. How was it, he was asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “My dad ate all of it.”

The stories are emotionally draining, tragic almost beyond understanding.

A young boy, a first grader, took his backpack of food home from school. When he arrived, he found his mother had apparently passed out. Accustomed to the sight, he simply took care of himself.

Hearing nothing for two days, an aunt checked on them. The mother had died of a drug overdose. The boy had relied on his pack of food all weekend.

The stories will and have made a grown man cry.

Worse, the letters and stories are real, written, told and experienced by little people, children in Stephens County, in this place we so often call Duncan, America, where we still think of white picket fences, happy times, blue skies, family values and innocence.

Kids here are hurting.

Kids here are hurting.

Kids here are hurting.

There is no attempt today to right the wrongs of society or to the restore the merits of an old-time family unit under every roof. It is rather to remind you we have a problem, a concern that grows, a stain that won’t easily go away.

And it is, briefly, the chance to tell you one other story.

Food4Kids is trying to make a difference.

Brought to our community by Lauren Siess, who first saw it as a member of Leadership Lawton and who now heads the United Way of Stephens County, the program – through the eyes and ears of our wonderful and caring teachers and school officials – quietly and compassionately identifies children in need.

They recognize students having trouble getting along with their friends, talking back to their teachers, struggling to keep up with their class work, lacking energy on the playground, falling behind in self-esteem and simply trying to make it through another day.

All, likely, because they are hungry.

To help over the agonizingly long weekend when there is no nourishing food program at school, children in the program are given, discreetly, a back pack or a food bag each Friday to help sustain them and keep them going until classes resume and food again becomes available.

Each bag includes kid-friendly foods that are easy to open, require no preparation and provide a degree of nutrition. Things included on an alternating cycle are peanut butter, crackers, beans and franks, cereal, fruit cups, vegetable cups, snack mixes, raisins, pudding cups, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, granola bars, juice boxes and processed milk that doesn’t require refrigeration.

If necessary, items are cautiously stuffed into other school bags to avoid any stigma or chance for ridicule. And on Monday, the bags are returned for use again the following week.

More than 300 backpacks go home to Stephens County kids every week.

That seems incredible in a place most of us lovingly call home and almost unbelievable for those of us who take for granted the pleasures of food.

But it’s true.

A school pantry for older kids will be added at Duncan Middle School and Duncan High School when classes being this fall, making available food to those youngsters and no doubt expanding the number helped.

It takes roughly $200 a year to help each child.

Local foundations, clubs, organizations and individuals have been generous in their support of the program that is coordinated through the Regional Food Bank in Oklahoma City. Gabe and Heather Amaya have assumed responsibility for finding additional monies and can be reached at 580-475-7328; 717 West Willow, Duncan; or email to gabriel@triumphcarpetcare.com.

I’m sending a check and hoping the stories get better.

edarling@duncanbanner.com

580-255-5354, Ext. 130

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