Augusta councilor wants to fight childhood hunger

By Keith Edwards Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Children are hungry in Augusta, and a city councilor thinks that if the community knew about it, it would step up to help.

A program of the Augusta Food Bank and Augusta School Department provides backpacks full of meals and healthy snacks to students who otherwise might go without on weekends.

The number of bags sent home with children over a weekend from each school:

Cony: 20 bags

Farrington: 12 bags and 10 privately funded

Hussey: 10 bags

Lincoln: 20 bags

Gilbert: 10 bags and 25 privately funded

Waiting list: 4 at Farrington, 1 at Lincoln, 5 at Gilbert.

Augusta School Department free and reduced price lunch statistics: 1,354 students of the 2,166 in the school system qualify for free or reduced price lunches:

School Percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch

Cony: 52 percent

Farrington: 60 percent

Hussey: 52 percent

Lincoln: 70 percent

Gilbert: 65 percent

“Anyone would agree, never should a child have to go hungry,” Grant said. “It’s something we might never resolve, but if we make sure one hungry child is getting the food they should, that’s an achievement. Anything we can do to bring awareness and attention and some results to the issue is worth it.”

Grant said studies consistently show students who are hungry don’t do as well in school because it is harder to concentrate on classroom lessons or homework when distracted by hunger.

He said action is being taken locally, such as by the Augusta Food Bank, to feed children and families, but “looking at the numbers, I’d argue there is still a need to do more.”

He said he was particularly moved to action when he heard there is a waiting list at some of the city’s elementary schools for a program that provides backpacks full of food for students to take home on weekends. The program is funded by grants and private donations.

“I thought if the community knew about that need, it will step up,” Grant said. “I was shocked by the numbers of children who qualify for free and reduced lunch, but also the number of students in the backpack program. These are children that may not have a meal for them over the weekend. The sad truth is for some children, Friday at lunch they have their last real meal until returning to school Monday.”

Grant said the commission could also, if councilors agree, raise awareness of and work to help prevent homelessness among school-aged children in Augusta. According to Augusta School Department statistics, 92 students in the system are homeless, and 23 of those list a homeless shelter as their residence.

He said municipalities and schools may be able to cooperate with others, including businesses, nonprofit groups, farmers and other municipalities, to seek federal grants and take action together to decrease childhood hunger.

Grant proposes the commission be made up of two city councilors, two school board members, three members of local anti-hunger nonprofit organizations, one member from the Augusta business community, one resident, one student and one member of Augusta’s state legislative delegation. The group would be expected to meet at least four times a year and provide a written report of its activity and recommendations every six months.

Councilors meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center to discuss the proposal.

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