Column: Youth nutrition needs greater than ever

Like many, I grew up in the 1960s and 70s. In my middle class neighborhood, families were proud to be self-sufficient. While I knew there were kids at school wearing the same clothes frequently, I was not aware of their circumstances. Our family donated to service organizations and our church in order to help in our community. We believed our donations helped families and children in need. Schools were not a place we considered for donating.

Jeff McGonigal
Jeff McGonigal

Our current reality is that more students than ever are in need. Many schools in Anoka-Hennepin and in our region now have active pantries helping students with food and toiletries. Such a room is now in place at all our high schools, most of our middle schools and a few elementary schools.

Students access the needed items in a manner that is discrete, making the process invisible to classmates. Because of the care taken at each school to stock and distribute items, many students benefit each day. We know students struggle to learn when they are hungry, so filling these needs has an impact on learning in addition to helping meet their basic needs.

With the economy in Minnesota improving, I would like to report the needs are declining but that is not the case. Approximately one-third of Anoka-Hennepin students still count on subsidized meals to meet their nutritional needs and some eat little except on school days. On weekends and extended holiday breaks like the one approaching, many will not have access to breakfast or lunch. With the recent cuts in the Department of

Agriculture’s supplemental nutrition assistance program, also known as food stamps, our young people need even more support as their families will be getting fewer dollars each month with which to purchase food.

Many families in Anoka and Northern Hennepin County have supported our school pantries and I thank you for doing so. If you are in a position to help at any time please do. Also, keep in mind a two-week holiday break approaches where students will need more food and toiletries than normal.

You can bring such items to the main office of any Anoka-Hennepin school or to our Pathways Program in the Family Center Mall, located at the intersections of Coon Rapids and Crooked Lake boulevards.

If you don’t have children attending one of our schools, consider helping students at a school near you, or perhaps the one you attended in your youth.

We are fortunate to have a very strong partnership with our faith communities. More than 50 churches have “adopted” our schools and regularly provide a great deal of support in the form of food, clothing, winter boots and more. You can also donate through one of our many faith partners listed at this web address:

Thank you for supporting the young people and families in this community and keeping in mind their needs during the coming months.

Jeff McGonigal is the associate superintendent for high schools with the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

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