I would like to begin my final blog as part of the United Way NWA Poverty Challenge with a thank you to the United Way. The Poverty Challenge has and will have an impact on this entire community and it certainly has had an impact on this superintendent.
In only one week, I became so much more food conscious. One week. It started with a trip to Walmart, calculator in hand, wandering the aisles looking for enough food for my wife and I (all for less than $50), and ended with a whole new understanding of food insecurity. Along the way, I developed empathy for what so many families in NWA face every week, a greater understanding of how hunger affects nearly 5,000 students and their families in Bentonville, and a week-long headache that I can only attribute to a change in the amount of calories consumed, along with nutritional elements missing from my diet by not eating as many fresh fruits and vegetables.
I invite you to think more deeply about the effect of hunger on students. I had a headache for almost an entire week that, at times, affected my ability to focus and concentrate. Now think about the number of students who don’t feel well each day, not because they have a virus, but simply because they are undernourished.
I really tried to select healthy food options for my week and still felt hunger after a short period of time. It took me more time with a limited budget to make food decisions, as well as prepare food. Now think of parents who are working two jobs, have limited income, and children with busy lives beyond the school walls. They simply have no time to coordinate or afford a healthy food intake. Many of these families turn to fast food, turn to items for dinner at gas stations, or simply go without. Go without! This happens, and is one of the reasons why our breakfast and lunch program in school districts are so vital. Equally vital is the support students and families receive from the Samaritan Community Center and our local Rotary Club who provide Snack Packs for our children to support our young people when they are not in school.
I’m almost embarrassed to share this next fact, but when faced with limited food choices and limited food portions I seemed to think about food all that much more. I would imagine that kids do the same thing; especially as they watch their peers come to school with snacks and lunch pails that are full. How do these students feel when they hear about the amazing meals, snacks, and treats their peers enjoy? Or worse, hear their peers complain about the food they had to choose from the day before. Food insecurity has so many issues.
I shared my food choices for the week. I tried my best to be balanced, but the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables had to have a negative impact on my health and well-being. It and certainly has a long term negative impact on our students and their families who cannot afford to purchase these items. I felt the effects of a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in one week. Something else to consider, the lack of fruit and vegetables during each meal has an impact on dental health. This is often overlooked. A healthy diet supports dental health. Also consider that poverty requires not only choices about food, but also makes choices of items related to dental and personal hygiene challenging. For many of us, we take for granted purchasing toothpaste, floss, shampoo, and deodorant. For those in poverty, the choice isn’t between what flavor of toothpaste; it’s between toothpaste and lunch.
I paint a pretty bleak picture for those that are limited in resources. I know these parents care as much as any parent we have in our school district. They often are working multiple jobs, seek appropriate support from multiple agencies, and plan extremely well to extend the dollars they bring in each week. Awareness events like the United Way NWA’s Poverty Challenge remind us of the struggles many of our neighbors face on a daily basis.
I am very proud to have helped the United Way with the Poverty Challenge. This week the focus goes toward supporting those in need. I hope during this week you’ve been made more aware of food insecurity, now it’s time to do something about it.
I ask you to contribute to a virtual food drive to support The Pack Shack this week. Simply visit https://www.unitedwaynwa.org/give/ and make a contribution in any amount. Type “Bentonville Schools Virtual Food Drive” in the comments and your contribution will be used to fund healthy meals for students and families across Northwest Arkansas. Your support means a great deal to me and the United Way, but it means so much more to students and families in need.
We live in an amazing community, in an incredible part of Arkansas where great things happen when we work together to find solutions. I am very proud to serve as the Superintendent of Bentonville Schools and I thank you for reading these blogs and for supporting this effort with a donation.