Hungry for Knowledge, Rather Than Just Hungry

I’d like to think I was lucky to grow up in a home where we always had food. Our shelves might have been stocked with the cheapest options at the grocery store, but I was never worried there wouldn’t be anything to eat. That is not the reality for many children in our state. It was not the reality for many kids I went to school with, it was not the reality for many elementary-school children my mother taught for 30 years and it is not the reality for many of my husband’s students today.

I had the opportunity to work with low-income students while living in Tennessee. We took 70 of these children out to a beautiful retreat center for music camp each summer. There they were exposed to incredible music, amazing teachers and had a life-changing experience. What was their favorite part of the week? Three meals a day, and all they could eat. Hands down, across the board, every student said that was the best part of camp. My mind was fixated on the learning aspect, and their minds were on getting fed.

Which brings up the question, how can children learn if they are hungry? According to Feeding America, insufficient nutrition puts children at risk for illness and weakens their immune system. More sickness means absences. The impact of hunger on brain function can be especially devastating for children. Just like all the body’s cells, brain cells rely on energy from food. No food means brain function is adversely affected – concentration, memory, sleep patterns, mood and motor skills. How can a child retain what they are learning in the classroom when they are not able to focus on or remember what they are being taught, and they are sleepy, irritable and shaky? Habitually hungry children are either perpetually absent or can find themselves disconnected from the learning process when they are in the classroom. And because important growth is occurring in the brain when children are young, lack of nutrients can cause irreparable damage.


(Girls working on homework during an afterschool program.)

This all paints a very sad picture, I know, and one that at times feels overwhelming and discouraging. But there are points of hope. Programs like Roadrunner’s Childhood Hunger Initiative (CHI) are seeking to find an answer, bolstering hungry children and their families. CHI replaces Roadrunner’s previous school program called Food for Kids. Food for Kids sent backpacks of food home for the weekend with those students who were most in need. What we learned was entire families were eating out of that one backpack. And though a backpack of food may be enough to quell the hunger of one elementary-school student for a weekend, it is not nearly enough for families of 4, 5 or 6 people, and sometimes more. CHI will provide a monthly distribution of food for the entire family through a Mobile Food Pantry or an in-school Food Pantry at 51 schools in New Mexico. It is a pilot program at this time, but I know the outcome will be phenomenal and deeply impactful.


(Student enjoying lunch at the school cafeteria.)

What thrills me most about CHI as a new school year gets underway? I am excited that those families who were eating out of one backpack will have more food. That no one in that home will have to go to bed on an empty stomach. And that the children who have, in the past, had listless expressions due to hunger, will come to school bright-eyed and ready to learn.

Katy Anderson is Community Initiatives Manager for Roadrunner Food Bank.

2 Responses to Hungry for Knowledge, Rather Than Just Hungry

  1. Chris says:

    Hello Katy,will you be hiring drivers in the near future for this program
    ? Thank you.

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