In the Sarasota area, many of us are looking forward to emerging from the pandemic. But even as vaccination rates increase, the broader impact of the coronavirus stubbornly persists. Here are five things you should know about the virus’s effects on local children.

1. One in four American families with school-age children don’t have reliable access to food.*

All Faiths Food Bank’s parent organization, Feeding America, estimates that 45 million people (1 in 7), including 15 million children (1 in 5), may have experienced food insecurity in 2020. The organization predicts that those numbers are not likely to improve much in 2021, as unemployment and economic strain related to the pandemic continue to impact families across the country.

In Sarasota, 37% of households struggle to afford basic needs, and in DeSoto County, that figure shoots to 60%. And those are pre-pandemic numbers.

Since January of last year, we have seen an approximately 120% increase in need, with a 53% increase in new clients at food distributions. The number of users visiting our website to find food increased by more than 360%. The need is unspeakably large.

*According to the New England Journal of Medicine

2. Too many children in Sarasota and DeSoto counties are hungry.

Nearly half of the 43,000 students enrolled at Sarasota County schools participate in free and reduced meal programs, while in DeSoto County, all of the nearly 5,000 enrolled students rely on these meals during the school year. When school doors are shuttered, daily meals are not accessible. Without the Campaign Against Summer Hunger, which seeks to fill the “hunger gap” created when schools are closed, children would not find the help they need.

3. Hunger has a significant and long-lasting impact on children.

There are serious health consequences for hungry kids, including impacts that put their prospects for future success at significant risk. Children who are hungry lack focus, which affects their ability to learn; have more difficulty with short-term memory; may be less social; and are more prone to illness than children from food-secure homes. Hunger-related toxic stress can negatively affect brain development, and severe hunger can lead to chronic illnesses.

4. Due to the coronavirus, we are facing a child health crisis.

As the pandemic stretches on, the crisis has become catastrophic. For the more than 56 million students in the United States, there have been economic impacts, heightened stress and anxiety, and significant disruptions to their routines. There have been physical, emotional, and educational impacts that could cause ripples in children’s well-being for years to come.

Recent news reports indicate that COVID is causing a widespread slide in academic performance. Early findings suggest that many students are losing ground, and the students who are most at risk are falling even further behind.

In addition, kids have experienced isolation and suffered tremendous disappointments through lost milestone events; not surprisingly, mental health issues are on the rise. Research being done worldwide is showing widespread impact, with depression and anxiety most prevalent.

As we enter the second year of the pandemic, we are facing a child health crisis. The future of area children is at risk.

5. YOU can make a difference for hungry children.

While there may not be a vaccine against hunger, there is a cure: to provide nutritious food to those who need it. But we can’t do it without you.

We encourage you to join the Campaign Against Summer Hunger between now and Saturday, May 15, so that thousands of children who may otherwise go hungry can be helped. It’s easy, and donations of any amount make a difference. You can:

  • Make a donation that will be doubled through a dollar-for-dollar match
  • Start a virtual fundraiser
  • Tell your family, coworkers, friends, and neighbors

Visit allfaithsfoodbank.org for more information and ways to lend your support.

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