Winter break will be kicking off this week for many schools across Texoma. While many students are looking forward to a break, seasonal celebrations, and holiday feasts, some students are dreading the time away from school.
That's because many students rely on school lunches and programs in order to have daily meals to eat. The most recent data released by the Food Bank of Wichita Falls shows there are more than 23,000 children in the area that are food insecure.
That means they do not know when and where their next meal will come from. During the school year there are many different options students have in order to remain fed, and healthy.
Students can be offered free or reduced lunches, they can participate in the PowerPak 4 Kids Backpack program, or Kids Café give some children an alternative source when it comes to snacks and weekend meals.
“The purpose of the backpack program is to help supplement meals from Friday come back to school on Monday,” said Jim McMahan, Childhood Hunger Director of the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank.
The PowerPak program gives children sacks of food to take home on the weekend. There are 11 different items inside, designed to last each child the entire weekend.
However, for two weeks during this year's winter break those children will have very few options to remain fed.
There are currently no programs that offer meals for children for the extent of winter break.
“It's got to be tough for them. They're still going to be hungry. Most people are going to be going about their jolly, merry way and these kids are going to be in survival mode,” said McMahan.
Food Bank volunteers and workers are putting in overtime. Working hard to get lunch bags grouped, gathered and packed. Ready to handout to students before winter break.
“What we try to do with the backpack program is this week when they get out for break, they get a bag this weekend like normal, and then we give them another bag. And it doesn't supplement the two weeks but that's really the solution that we have,” said McMahan.
A solution that does what it can in an attempt to make a dent in the massive number of children going hungry in the region. McMahan said they are able to address just a small portion, 12 percent, of those children with the backpack program.
But even with the two weekend lunch packs it doesn't address the number of days students have to go without.
“Some students commented before thanksgiving, they wanted to know if they were still gonna get the bags when they left for thanksgiving break,” said McMahan. “They're more concerned about what's going to happen food wise, as opposed to enjoying the holidays.”
The hunger among school-age children continues to grow. It now makes up 69 percent of all school children across the region, according to data from the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank.
Although there are no current solutions that will keep food on the tables of those who go hungry, Food Bank officials said they will continue to strive to make a difference.
Wichita Falls Food Bank research shows children suffering with hunger often experience poorer health conditions, increased school absences, shame and social alienation. That's why the Food Bank said with increased donations and volunteers they will continue to work hard to address the growing problem.