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Hunger Beat

The 1 in 5: 'How can you do homework when your stomach is growling?'

Jaylen receives a meal and gets homework done at a Kids Cafe site in North Lawndale.

In our community, hundreds of thousands of children face hunger every day. But, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other organizations provide programs designed to fight childhood hunger.

On September 30, 2015, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization - the federal law that funds many of those programs - is set to expire.

Twice a month for the next year, we will be telling stories about the importance of those programs. These are the real stories of the 1 in 5 children in Cook County who face food insecurity and the programs that make an impact on their lives.

Seven-year-old Jaylen was happily scribbling away on a piece of lined paper, writing about a trip to Florida he wants to take one day. Despite the chatter of children around him, the second grader was fully focused on his homework assignment.

“My mom and dad want me to do as much homework as I can here,” he said, taking a moment to look up from his paper. “It’s easier to do homework here because when I get hungry I get distracted.”

Every day, Jaylen eats a meal at the Family Focus Lawndale after school program, which receives Kids Cafe meals from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. He’s one of approximately 60 children enrolled in the program, which fills a critical need in the community.

“A lot of these kids probably wouldn’t eat at night if they didn’t get a meal here,” said Roosevelt Smith, the program coordinator.

In North Lawndale, the child poverty rate is 58 percent. And, according to Roosevelt, healthy food options are limited.

“Children don’t get a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables around here,” he said.

That’s why the federally funded Kids Cafe meals are so important. Generally they include a sandwich, fruit and a vegetable.

For Tamika Beverley, the meals her twin 7-year-olds receive at Family Focus are a “godsend.”

“How can they focus when they’re hungry?” she said.

Tamika works full-time at the post office and picks her children up around 5 p.m. In addition to receiving a meal at the program, they get schoolwork done. But for Tamika, the biggest benefit of the program goes back to nutrition.

“How can you do homework when your stomach is growling?” she said. “This knocks the edge off.”

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