Childhood Poverty: Food is the solution

Childhood Poverty: Food is the solution

CINCINNATI (Rich Jaffe) - Even though the Cincinnati community spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the battle against child poverty, there's one of the worst poverty rates in the nation.

While experts say there was no easy solution, one man disagrees and is waging his own personal battle against it. His name is Tony Fairhead and he says the answer to child poverty starts with food.

His tiny charity, Childhood Food Solutions, targets elementary school students in the 45225 ZIP code that includes Millvale and North Fairmount. He provides nutritional care packages to help cover the days kids don't get meals at school.

"We don't know where the hunger's going to hit. You don't know from week to week where you're suddenly going to get hunger," said Tony.

On one visit, Tony's dropping off 350 weekend Snackpacks at Taylor Academy; one for each student. The helping hands of students formed an assembly line of appreciation. Inside each of the $3.50 packs is a box of breakfast bars, gummy treats with a day's worth of vitamin C, a granola bar and graham crackers.

"If you eat graham crackers and you don't drink a lot of water pretty soon your mouth gums up, then your stomach starts to fill up and so you can go through about 200 calories of graham crackers and that's about where you stop. So now you've still got food for later or food to share, you don't feel like you're running out of your food because you can't eat it all," said Tony.

How big a deal is this in some of the households? It's huge. They just need the basics. After working all day with two small children the caloric contributions from Tony's program means a lot to Jakila Jenkins.

"When your child comes in like, 'Mom hey I got this from school,' I can put this with what we have to make a whole meal and not just a portion of a meal so with that it's good," Jenkins said.

Tony founded the project 12 years ago, with Lisa Hyde-White. She said the proof of the project is in the schools.

"They went from academic emergency to continuing improvement to excellent and the grades are going up. So our model has been food plus education equals success. When the kids don't have to worry about being hungry they can concentrate on doing their homework, test scores whatever it may be. Not only are they feeding themselves, they're taking it home and sharing with other people in the house," said Hyde-White.

That means everyone in the household gets healthier giving them a better chance to move out of poverty. They've also seen an increase in birthweight which means a greatly reduced expense for Medicaid.

Fueled totally by donations, with half a dozen other volunteer board members and help from St. Leo's Church, the compassionate program spends about $100,000 a year on food paying retail price at Aldi's and Sam's Club. Each sack is packed by community members. There are no salaries.

The contents of the packs depends on the time of year and how long the food has to last. In neighborhoods where over 50 percent of the families live below the poverty line not-so-small things like this obviously can mean a lot.

Every day in Cincinnati around 22,000 public school students receive free lunches through the federally subsidized meal program. A survey done by Hamilton County Job and Family Services found that for families on food stamps, 90 percent of the benefits are spent in the first three days after they're issued.

That means as the month drags on, there is an increasing need for food, like the food being provided by Childhood Food Solutions.

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