It’s easy to forget about hunger and poverty, but for many kids in the U.S. — 14.5 million under the age of 18 — it’s a very real, and difficult daily concern. Katherine Gibson Howton, a high school teacher at a small school in Oregon, knows the struggle of adolescent hunger all too well. Many of her students come to class hungry, and at times, unhappy and irritable because of it. On March 17th she took to Facebook to spread some awareness. “We are your children’s teachers,” she began her post. “We know that we may have more time with your child than you do. We don’t want them to be hungry, and not just because a hungry child can’t learn but because we care about them. Hungry feels scary.”
Howton went on to tell Scary Mommy that 20% of the students at her school have housing insecurity; many students also qualify for free lunch. “We know that some of our students have no food in the house by the end of the month,” she said.
One man even took to Facebook to reiterate what she was saying. “We really depended on the school lunches. It was usually many hours before we had food again,” he wrote. “If a kind hearted teacher had something extra, that was a gift. The thought that free school lunch programs would be heartlessly cut… really, I can barely speak of it.”
And one day during class, one of Howton’s students was complaining of a headache. It turned out the student hadn’t eaten all day, and luckily she was prepared.
Howton confessed that almost all the other teachers at her school — even administrators and substitutes — have cabinets similar to hers (which she shares with another teacher). Before her Facebook post gained attention, she and her colleagues hadn’t openly discussed the hunger issues happening inside the school. “If we educators aren’t talking about it, how could parents possible know?” she told Scary Mommy.
They now discuss the problem frequently, and they all know how helpful keeping food in the classroom can be for a child’s education. But with the President’s recent budget proposal, funding for after school programs, which help kids get fed, are on the chopping block.
But Howton told Scary Mommy she’s prepared to continue providing students with food, even if the government is not. “They’re cutting the federal safety net, and we’re providing this invisible safety net that no one even knows about,” she said.