Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced his recommendation for $1.8 million to be added to the state’s budget for Maryland Meals for Achievement, a program that provides free breakfast for all students at needy schools. This recommendation is part of O’Malley’s plan to make Maryland the first state to end childhood hunger by 2015.
At first glance, it may seem to some people that $1.8 million is a huge chunk of change that could potentially go to other much-needed state programs; however, I applaud O’Malley for recognizing that childhood hunger is an issue of severe importance.
You may ask yourself: “Why is it our job to feed someone else’s children?” The answer is anything but simple. There are countless reasons why a child may not eat breakfast in the morning. It may be that the family is needy and cannot supply an adequate breakfast for the child. It may be that the child was like me in high school, and had to wake up before dawn to catch the bus and would rather have more sleep than eat. Maybe the child feels some sort of social pressure not to eat the cafeteria food. Whatever the reason, it is important to remember that we are not just investing in someone else’s children but we are literally investing in the future of our state and our nation. An increase in academic performance should improve the quality of our leaders tomorrow.
I went to high school in Montgomery County. Even though my parents would make sure that I had milk and cereal, or any other variety of quick breakfasts available, it was all too common for me to skip breakfast to get a few more precious minutes of coveted sleep. Although I was embarrassed at the time and would not admit it to my peers, I was part of the free meal program at school and got my breakfast for free. I was fortunate to go to a school that not only served a hot breakfast, but had actual free meal programs for needy children.
Even though I qualified for the free meals program at school, I was often too embarrassed to get in line for breakfast or lunch, because as soon as I gave the lunch lady my meal ticket, everyone around me would know that I was a needy student. There were days that I would be hungry all the way up until lunch time, and I would just buy a pair of cupcakes or a cheap bag of chips, because I didn’t want to use my tickets.
Eventually, I got over the apparent social stigma and used my meal tickets in the morning and at lunch. Although this situation is a little different than the one presented, because there actually was a program available to me, the point is that I know what it’s like to be a hungry student, and I know that it probably affected my performance in school. I was also very appreciative of the meal program at school and benefited greatly from it.
Marylanders need to get behind O’Malley and support his initiative to end childhood hunger in our state. In Montgomery and Prince George’s counties especially, there are many needy students in schools that just do not get the funding they need to support such programs. Many schools do not even serve breakfast, so I know that there are countless children going hungry. The Maryland Meals for Achievement program that offers free breakfast to all of a qualified school’s students also would get rid of the stigma that attaches with qualifying individually for a free meal program. This would encourage more students in general to participate. For those interested in helping to ensure that the increased funding is passed, a letter to your representative in the Maryland General Assembly could demonstrate your concern and support for feeding our state’s hungry children. There also are numerous programs to get involved with, such as Maryland Meals for Achievement. Visit the website for The Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland to get an overview of the program and ways to get involved, whether you are a parent, a church or organization, or even just a concerned citizen.
Richard Carlton, Riverdale