I realize we’re all rightly focused on helping the people of Texas in this crisis. But we also have an opportunity close to home as children go back to school.
A couple of years ago in a town far away, I volunteered at the nearby elementary school.
One day I was asked to do pull out reading with a kindergarten student that I’ll call Handsome for the sake of this story.
Handsome was more than a handful. He was restless, unfocused and, for his teacher, exhausting.
“Please take him for an hour. I can’t get anything done in the classroom with him behaving the way he does.”
So I started taking him to the media center where there were tables, comfortable chairs, beanbags and even a soft floor area where we might read. But no matter where we sat, Handsome just couldn’t sit with me for more than a minute or so without needing to move, to wiggle, to get up and walk away. I took him there several times, but just couldn’t make progress with him.
I thought perhaps the media center was too distracting, so I asked if there was a smaller space that I might read with him. The media center director told me to try the teacher lounge. There was a couch in there that might be a comfortable place to read.
The next time I picked Handsome from class, we went to the library and picked out some books and then went to the teacher’s lounge. As promised, there was a comfortable couch and we took our books and sat down to read. Handsome lasted about 90 seconds on the couch before he got up and walked away.
“Handsome, please sit down and read with me for a while longer,” I said.
“Handsome, are you hungry?”
I’ll never forget his face as he turned to look at me and nodded his head, “Yes.”
I bought some snacks from the machine and we sat together and read as he ate. He sat through the whole book.
Handsome was hungry.
When I told his teacher what I’d discovered, she said, “No, that can’t be. Handsome is on the free and reduced lunch roll and he gets breakfast when he comes to school.”
“That may be so, but when I feed him he is a different child,” I said.
The school counselor got involved and investigated what was happening with Handsome.
“His mother drives a bus for the city. Her shift starts at 4 am, so she gets Handsome up then and he sleeps on the bus until school is ready to start. The way her bus route works, he doesn’t get here in time to get breakfast before school. She thought he was eating breakfast at school. We thought he was eating breakfast with the other children. No one realized what was happening until we investigated.”
Once Handsome started getting breakfast, he became a different student altogether. By the end of the year, he was reading out loud with me and was sitting easily through three or four books. He wanted more reading when it was time to take him back to class.
Hunger is too prevalent among children in the US today. We give money and collect food for food banks or backpacks and have a false sense of confidence that enough is being done. Sometimes hunger requires our personal attention.
What might you do to make sure the Handsomes in your neighborhood are getting food every meal and every day?