We hear about SARS. We hear about AIDS. But what about one of the most devastating epidemics? How many are even aware it exists?
It weakens the very fabric of society and can result in long-term social dysfunction that has a cost far beyond any disease known to mankind. It is childhood hunger.
"One in four people in a soup kitchen line is a child. Childhood hunger is the unseen epidemic in our nation," according to the Capital Area Foodbank. "And it grows even more acute during the summer, when millions of children don't have access to the school lunches they normally depend upon."
But that desperation was somewhat alleviated June 5, designated as National Hunger Awareness Day, when Harris Teeter, Inc., brought a 40-foot trailer to the Alexandria Family Resource Center to donate it plus $10,000 to further the goals of the Kids Cafe Program in Northern Virginia.
Franklyn M. Malone, founder of the Center, operated under the aegis of the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and now ARHA's Drug Elimination Coordinator, emphasized that the support of such organizations as Harris Teeter was essential to not only the Kids Cafe Program but also the overall mission of the Center.
"First, we have to feed their stomachs before we can successfully feed their minds," he emphasized. "This has definitely paid off.
Malone explained, "Each of the kids who have been attending our after-school classes at the Center successfully was promoted to the next grade at the end of this school year. We didn't leave any kids behind. It's never happened before."
Susan P. Kincaid, director, Children and Nutrition Programs, Capital Area Foodbank, explained, "We partner with after-school programs such as the one here at the Family Resource Center. We have 33 sites throughout the metropolitan area to which we supply food once a week."
She stated, "Harris Teeter contacted us and wanted to participate in this program." This was buttressed by Greg Rockwell, district manager, Harris Teeter, who acknowledged, "We are constantly looking for ways to help in communities where we have stores."
In accepting the grant, Alexandria Mayor-elect, William Euille, said, "Public housing is something that is near to my heart. I grew up in public housing in the Berg. This Center offers a lot of opportunities for children, especially the computer learning center."
Rockwell acknowledged that the Alexandria Center, 910 Montgomery St., was chosen as the site, "Because we've had a business relationship with that Center and we really wanted the $10,000 to go toward the Kids Cafe Program.
"There are numerous organizations throughout the area we are involved with everyday. We are constantly looking for ways to help in the community."
EMPHASIZING THIS year's theme for Hunger Awareness Day, "Can 9 Million Hungry Kids Inspire a Nation?" Foodbank board member Sheri L.H. Link noted, "The most important thing you can ever do to help a child is to teach them to read. Every day they are here at the Center the better they become."
Joining Euille, Rockwell, Kincaid, Malone and other Harris Teeter representatives in the ceremony were A. Melvin Miller, ARHA chairman, and William Dearman, ARHA executive director. They both attested the Center is a "real success story."
Based in the District of Columbia with a Northern Virginia branch headquartered in Lorton, the Foodbank has been operating for 23 years. It distributes approximately 20 million pounds of food per year across the region.
"We started the Kids Cafe in 1997. It serves 33 sites and 1,500 children a day with two pounds of food per child per day," Kincaid said. The Children Nutrition Program commenced last year, according to Kincaid.
"We deliver the food once a week. It is composed of nutritional snack foods so that it can be stored since most sites do not have kitchens. We also distribute nutritional juices. The new trailer given by Teeter is a real asset in our distribution activity," she said.
Malone, who worked with the Foodbank when he was with the United Way before joining ARHA, started the local Kids Cafe Program more than two years ago when he was the Center's director. "This food brings the kids to the Center so we can talk to them about other programs. One of the most important is the life skills program which teaches them how to earn trust and give respect," Malone said.
THE CENTER OFFERS a total learning experience covering everything from reading and math skills to computer literacy. "ARHA has enabled us to operate the Center through the use of HUD funds,” Malone acknowledged. Attendance at the After School Academic Program goes as high as 52 children per day.
"The mission of the Center is to help students at all levels from elementary through high school. Once they decide to participate, if they show up with no homework we tell them to go to the recreation center. This Center is for learning," Malone said.