Health & Fitness

Keeping Kids Fit: Feeding the need to help the hungry in our own backyard

Most of us are aware of the impact of the 2008 recession, when many people struggled to keep their jobs. A Miami Herald article in 2011 told of a food bank in Homestead and the stories of people who once had good jobs but were now facing difficult choices — pay your rent or buy food. One woman in that article was living in her SUV with everything she owned.

Today, we don’t see stories like these as often as we did. But there is still a tremendous need for assistance throughout Miami-Dade County.

Minister Wayne Oxford, director of Food of Life Outreach Ministries, began providing for a handful of families in 2010. The magnitude of the need quickly became obvious. A year later, Food of Life was supporting 3,000 to 5,000 individuals per month, and those numbers are the same today.

Feeding America and other survey organizations estimate that more than one million children go to bed hungry in Florida. This statistic breaks down to an estimated 132,000 children in Miami-Dade County, 2,500 in Monroe County, 82,000 in Broward County and 63,000 in Palm Beach County. About 8 percent of these families, or 10,500 children, in Miami-Dade County do not qualify for food stamp benefits and rely entirely on food banks for virtually everything they eat.

The true indicators of basic needs are seen two days a week at Food of Life, located in Florida City. The lines for free food begin early in the morning. A registration is completed for each person detailing the number of people in the household, their ages and any specific dietary needs. Sacks of food containing canned goods, bread and meat (when available) are prepared by volunteers and given out as soon as they are ready.

Even with the generosity of food banks like Food of Life, children who are hungry are suffering. Many are suffering not only from hunger, but also from malnutrition, which means they are not getting the necessary nutrients for good health and development. Malnourished children are more likely to get sick, may become stunted in growth and can suffer from fatigue, dizziness, decaying teeth, muscle weakness, learning deficits and much more.

On the flip side, there are children and families who want to help change this appalling trend in South Florida. It is important for your children to know that they can be a part of ending hunger while personally benefitting from volunteering.

Children ages 5 to 14 who volunteer often have a healthier lifestyle and make better choices than their peers. They are less likely to experiment with at-risk behaviors and are more empathetic of others. Volunteering also teaches kids valuable life skills, particularly when they help in low-income areas. Volunteering can help your children feel like they are a connected, important part of their community and are changing society for the better.

There are numerous food banks throughout South Florida. As a family, you can put together a sack of canned goods and other nonperishable items to be donated to your local food bank. Consider including healthy cereal, non-refrigerated milk and nonperishable items such as rice, macaroni and cheese, fruit snacks, beans and other vegetables.

In addition to personal donations, food banks are stocked from a variety of places, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Share and local stores. And people who might not have time to volunteer can support the effort through donations that can be used to buy food in bulk (approximately 19 cents per pound).

Those who are lacking food often are also in need of clothing and household items. At Food of Life, clothing, including school clothes, and small household items are available to families that live in the area. Diapers are in high demand because of the number of young mothers with infants.

All of these items are typically stocked from individual donations. As a family, go through your closets with your kids to identify what clothes they’ve outgrown and which items are no longer needed but could be helpful to someone else. Together you can donate these clothes and household items, again reinforcing the importance of volunteering and being aware of the needs of others. As families and a community, the more we can do together, the better we can make life for everyone.

Robert Fifer, Ph.D., is a pediatric audiologist with UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.

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