Since November, 2014, the Food Center at Chester Eastside has served over 300 households a month. Children alone have averaged 118 a month. Generally it’s the adults who come to the agency Mondays and Wednesdays to pick up bags of food. But many of these are parents struggling to make ends meet.
What does this mean in human terms? Recently two women with children who came to Chester Eastside had no food in the house at all. One had lost her job as a personal trainer, and with it lost her home. She and her two children were staying with her mother to avoid living on the streets. The other woman had a roof over her head, but would have no food without her visit to the Food Center. She was especially grateful to have meat.
Cutbacks in funding from the State and other sources have meant that meat and fresh produce are a rarity. Cheese, which is one of the more expensive items, is totally missing. So families try to subsist on things like canned goods and pasta, which are more readily available. Aside from what they can pick up at the Chester Eastside Food Center and other such programs in Chester, many families have to rely on cheap foods with lots of sugar, salt. and fat but little nutritional value. Over reliance on those foods can lead to health problems like diabetes and obesity.
The Food Center helps to make up for some of these gaps by providing home cooked hot meals at every session.
Hidden cost: the long term effects on children.
The idea of somebody, especially a child, going hungry is something that immediately captures the imagination. It’s been that way since little Oliver Twist pleaded in vain for just a little more gruel, in Charkes Dickens’s classic tale of that name. But what people often miss are the long term indirect effects on a child of a chronic lack of food and what is called “food insecurity” (i.e., uncertainty as to where the next meal is coming from).
Aside from the effect of hunger on a growing body, food insecurity is one more traumatic experience that can have a devastating effect on a child’s future. Poor nutrition has been found to affect a child’s school performance, which in turn is a predictor of everything from whether a person drops out of school to one’s job prospects to the likelihood of substance abuse and even prison time.
“God bless you!”
Many volunteers from Chester and suburban communities help to staff the Food Center at Chester Eastside. And what do they get in return for their efforts? The knowledge that they are truly making a difference in the lives, not only of this generation, but of the next generation and the one after that. That and the two most frequent comments from recipients: “God bless you!” and, “What would I do without you?”