Study raises concerns about child hunger in South MS

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - At Gaston Point Elementary, the lunch lines are long and the cafeteria is crowded. That's because out of 267 students, 98-percent are in the free or reduced lunch program.

Many students also participate in the school's Backpack Program, which provides food for needy children to take home on weekends and during holidays.

"We have about 60 children that come to me every week on Friday, and they get a sack with healthy foods and snacks for the weekend," said counselor Rose Tournillon.

A new study by the hunger relief organization Feeding America examined Child Food Insecurity, basically, children who are struggling with hunger.

In our state, it revealed that 28.3 percent of children in south Mississippi are not getting enough to eat. The number is higher than the state average, which is 27.7 percent, and the national average, which is 23.2 percent.

"I think it's almost very hard to hear," said Carol Foley, Bay Area Food Bank Operations Director. "I grew up in this area and when I look at the coast of Mississippi, the fourth congressional district, being 28.3 percent of the children are at-risk of hunger, it just really concerns me."

The Bay Area Food Bank distributes food to non-profit organizations and church pantries in three states, including Mississippi. Foley points to the bleak economy, the BP oil spill, and post-Katrina recovery as contributing factors to the hunger crisis.

"I think that the other thing it helps us to do is better understand the face of hunger, where the kids are that we need to reach and help us really look for other ways, maybe not just our way of solving the problem, but how do we collaborate as a group, all of us in the community, find ways to make sure these children have food," said Foley.

She said the study provides critical information at a time when hunger is on the rise and donations to food banks are running low.

"We absolutely are seeking donations that can help us fund things like a mobile pantry, like a Backpack Program," said Foley. "How our children are nourished and providing them with healthy food and food that provides the nourishment that they need, it's all of our jobs."

On Wednesday, ABC News also kicked-off a series of special reports called "Hunger at Home... Crisis in America."

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