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Leon High students raise awareness on food insecurity in the Big Bend

Posted at 6:26 PM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 18:27:03-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The News Literacy Project, WTXL, and The E.W. Scripps Company have teamed up to raise awareness on news literacy and the role of a free press in American democracy.

This comes as information – and misinformation – surge around recent national events.

As part of The News Literacy Project, ABC 27 teamed with Leon High school journalism students to help them write and produce a story on an issue impacting the Big Bend, food insecurity among students.

Tens of thousands of children in the Big Bend area face food insecurity as food banks across the country fight to keep up with demand and even more families are struggling financially because of the pandemic.

According to Second Harvest, 16,000 students in Leon County are struggling with hunger; an issue that affects one in five people in the Big Bend.

The Second Harvest of the Big Bend says 150,000 people are struggling with food insecurity in our community because of the coronavirus pandemic, and children and seniors consistently rank as the most at risk for food insecurity.

“Since the beginning of COVID-19 we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people in our community who are food insecure,” said Monique Van Pelt, the CEO of Second Harvest of the Big Bend.

Most high school students have a lot on their plate, not knowing that the student sitting next to them in class or their teammate may be suffering from food insecurity.

“It breaks my heart,” said Rocky Hanna, the superintendent of Leon County Schools.

Second Harvest says 31,000 children experience hunger day-to-day. Currently, 50 percent of recipients at their weekly food distributions have never needed this help before.

It’s a new reality that can be embarrassing for students.

"There’s a huge component of shame for children who receive charitable food," Van Pelt said.

Second Harvest’s backpack program aims to take away some of that shame while making sure students are fed.

"The program allows schools to send children home with bags full of food that they can put in their backpack and take home with them so that they have nutritious food to eat throughout the weekend,” said Van Pelt.

For the 2019-2020 school year, Second Harvest distributed over over 3,400 backpacks per week, or or 45,300 backpacks total, through the backpack program and is on track to provide even more.

Superintendent Hanna says another way to make a difference and take away potential embarrassment is for students to help students.

"Leon students and students, in general, are so generous when they know to help and to lend a helping hand and to make food contributions to Second Harvest," said Hanna. "And then those can get out to people in our community who desperately need those resources who are doing without.”

Second Harvest's survey of teachers and students participating in the backpack program indicates an increase in attendance, alertness, attention span, and improved behavior. Also, overall health and weight gain are seen as a significant improvement.

No federal funding exists for the backpack program, it depends on grants and donations.

For more information, to donate or volunteer, click here.

Leon High senior Chambers Miller and Leon High Junior Peyton Gallant worked as student reporters on this story.

To learn more about Chambers and Peyton, click here.