No holiday break for struggling Colorado families—and what’s at stake for kids in 2015

The holiday season is often portrayed as “merry and bright,” but for many Colorado families that’s not the case. When living paycheck to paycheck, a holiday break for families with school-age children leads to additional stress and tough choices like: Do I pay our rent and bills or buy groceries?

It’s estimated that about one in five  kids don’t know when or where they will get their next meal while out of school. Their families struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table, whether due to a job loss, health issue, minimum-wage job or misfortune. School breakfast and lunch help fill nutritional gaps, ensuring that all children are setup for success. Yet, over holiday break, students who eat free and reduced-price meals lose access to that basic nutrition provided during the school day; the fuel needed for their bodies and minds.

Due to this loss, churches and charitable organizations feel the strain, seeing increased need at their food pantries—typically a family’s first line of defense against hunger. But charity alone cannot solve hunger and feed every person. The federal government, along with its state and local counterparts, play an important role in ensuring children, adults and seniors have access to enough food to thrive.

Programs that connect children to school breakfast and lunch, afterschool snacks, and summer meals support their health, behavior and educational performance. Other programs like food stamps serve as an economic bridge, helping families purchase groceries and get back on their feet like the 255,000 Coloradans, including 130,000 children, who were lifted out of poverty due to the safety net between 2009 and 2013.

Clearly, without such programs, more Coloradans would experience hunger and, in turn, create a ripple effect with impacts on individual well-being, education, productivity and our state’s economic health. In 2015 Sen. Cory Gardner, Sen. Michael Bennet and the rest of Congress will consider reauthorization of all child nutrition programs, set to expire in September. These programs need to be protected and sufficiently funded not only to fuel kids with nutritious food, but to create a better future for all Coloradans.

The holiday break was not a vacation for thousands of families across Colorado, and it’s a shame that so many neighbors went without and faced hunger. Food—and nutritious food at that—should be a basic human right. Our Colorado delegates in Congress have the opportunity to strengthen federal nutrition programs in 2015 and beyond, and voters need to voice their support for programs that ensure a healthier, stronger state where no Coloradan goes hungry anytime of the year.

I encourage you to sign up for our legislative alerts to stay up-to-date on what’s happening at the State Capitol and on Capitol Hill. We’ll notify you when lawmakers are considering bills and other proposals that impact the nearly 1 in 7 Coloradans who struggle with hunger, and with our easy-to-use system, you can tell elected officials where you stand on those issues. Visit our online advocacy center for more.

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This op-ed, penned by our executive director, Kathy Underhill, was featured in several newspapers across Colroado.

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About Kathy Underhill

Executive director for Hunger Free Colorado

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