One in nine children goes hungry

June 16, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

More than 11 percent of Maryland's children go hungry in any given month, according to a national study issued yesterday.

And local advocates say the situation worsens during summer months, when children no longer get free or subsidized meals in school cafeterias.

An estimated 134,000 children in Maryland go hungry for some period of time, according to the study issued by the Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition, which is located near Boston.

According to the study, 11.2 percent of Maryland children are afflicted by hunger, much better than the national average of 18.3 percent, and better than all but three states -- Alaska, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

The study is based on 1991 Census Bureau figures and data from food assistance programs.

For the purpose of the Tufts study, a child was anyone under 18 and hunger was defined as "the chronic under-consumption of adequate nutrients" because a family lacked the resources to buy certain foods. That means young people may have skipped meals at times or consumed unbalanced diets, often with an over-reliance on starches.

"It means kids are going out without food regularly every month," Linda Eisenberg, executive director of the Maryland Food Committee, said at a news conference at Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School on East 21st Street at which the study was released locally.

"These numbers are an alarm. . . . To paraphrase a popular phrase, 'These children are our future, stupid,' " Ms. Eisenberg said.

The federal government underwrites a summer food program for needy children, but only 15.5 percent of the 144,000 Maryland students eligible for free or reduced-price meals end up getting regular meals in the summertime, according to a study last year by the Washington-based Food Research and Action Center.

Soup kitchens and food pantries notice a sudden increase in demand when school is out.

Last year, the Maryland Food Bank, which serves the state's food pantries, ran out of canned goods in August. And one Baltimore soup kitchen, Manna House at Greenmount Avenue and 25th Street, reported serving 911 children in that month, up from 184 the year before.

On a single day in August, as many as 65 children showed up for breakfast at Manna House.

Parents at the news conference said they use all sorts of strategies to stretch their food budget. They often go without food so their children can eat, but that still doesn't keep their children from going hungry.

Yvonne Arthur, a 43-year-old mother of five, has found that food stamps go further if she pools them with relatives and neighbors, buying food in bulk and preparing meals together. She also typically goes to three or four markets to find the best prices on certain goods.

Fresh fruit is a luxury, Ms. Arthur said. "It's really sad when a child sees a bowl of oranges on a table and says, 'Oh, you must be rich.' "

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