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Report: Arizona ranks last for child hunger

PHOENIX — A new report puts Arizona in a last-place tie with Oregon when it comes to child hunger.

According to the report from Feed America, the national rate of child hunger is 21.6 percent and has dropped recently. Arizona sits at 28.8 percent and has been climbing.

“More than 466,000 kids in the state that don’t eat regularly at home,” said Jerry Brown, spokesman for St. Mary’s Food Bank. “Half of those are in Maricopa County.”

The Arizona Department of Education is continuing to offer free and reduced-price lunches throughout the summer break. St. Mary’s is also helping with that, serving 3,000 meals during the week to hungry kids.

“We’re doing breakfast this year for the first time in addition to lunch,” said Brown. “We’re even getting backpacks together for the weekend.”

New group helping out

Many schools are also taking note how many of their students are going without food. On Nov. 11, 2011, the principal at Central High School in Phoenix was in tears when he explained to an assembly how many of his kids were not getting enough to eat. That inspired Robin Dendy to start the Kindness Project.

“It’s food, for goodness sakes,” said Dendy. “It shouldn’t be a big deal, but I guess it is. And the need is so great.”

The Kindness Project started at Central High at the start of this year. Dendy would have food out in crates on Friday for kids to have something to eat for the weekend. At the end of the school year, 250 to 300 students were putting food into grocery bags to take home for the weekend.

“They weren’t embarrassed to stand in line for food,” said Dendy.

Dendy is hoping to expand the Kindness Project’s reach to cover the inner city. She is organizing more events this summer to give food to kids in need. She’s just hoping she’ll have enough to go around.

Problems in summer

A big problem St. Mary’s has seen is the drop in donations when summer comes.

“The money we get in donations goes down because people go out of town for the summertime,” said Brown. “We have approximately 30 percent less food than we did at this time last year.”

St. Mary’s also does more to distribute water in the summer, which cuts even further into donations.

Brown suspects people might be thinking the need is going down because the economy is recovering in some areas. However, since Arizona was hit so hard, the need has always been great, and new numbers are showing it will continue.

“Without a doubt, this is the toughest and leanest time of year for all food banks,” said Brown.

St. Mary’s Food Bank takes donations all year. Monday morning the food bank is holding a special drive called Kids Cafe at Phoenix Youth at Risk, located at 1001 E. Pierce St. in Phoenix.