Childhood hunger in Brevard is a "solvable problem" | Opinion

Two prominent stories about childhood hunger, one in Forbes Magazine and one recently in FLORIDA TODAY highlighted the nationwide need for more food to be served in public schools. What does that have to do with anything locally? As Americans, we cherish our kids in ways unmatched by any other country. Yet in Brevard County, many of our kids are undernourished and food insecure.

These facts are lacking in logic and morality.

As indicated in the Forbes story, school meal programs play a major role in supporting children’s nutrition, food security, and overall health. Research suggests that many children have their most nutritious meals of the day at school and school meals are healthier on average than meals brought from home. School meals also provide an opportunity to establish longer-term healthy dietary patterns, as children’s eating preferences often persist into adulthood. The FLORIDA TODAY story noted that momentum is building toward Congress approving the support of universal free meals in every state.

Bob Barnes, founder of the Children's Hunger Project.
Bob Barnes, founder of the Children's Hunger Project.

Here in Florida, especially in Brevard County, we are light years ahead of most of the country when it comes to the recognition that food security is the key element in building a strong scholastic career. Yet we have not resolved the issue of food insecurity with too many of our local kids. Corky Calhoun, Lead Pastor at Georgian Church said it best when referring to hungry kids in Brevard: "This is a solvable problem".

Years ago when I founded The Children's Hunger Project with Jean Yves Clerc and Sam Jordon, the Brevard Public School System (BPS) was one of only five Florida school districts that offered free breakfasts for kids in our local schools. This was because Kevin Thorton the Director of Food & Nutrition Services for BPS, and his staff were willing to do the extra work involved in dealing with paperwork and other related government rules to accomplish the good deed of feeding our kids in the morning. Better attendance rates and test scores are associated with school breakfast programs.

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With food prices soaring, our lower-income families are stretching their food dollars to the limit. Food at school at least addresses the needs of our most precious assets. The school meal programs are better than most of us think they are as they provide more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables than many kids would get at home.

The Children's Hunger Project has noticed a significant increase in the requests for nutritional help. We have stretched our budget by providing a weekend food package every week to more than 4,000 kids at 60 Brevard County elementary schools.  And we are not even meeting the need, something that eventually will be done as more donation funding becomes available.

Hundreds of volunteers gather at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Community in Viera to pack meals for The Children’s Hunger Project. Separated into two shifts, the volunteers packed 2500 lunches each as part of the Children’s Hunger Project’s Pack 5000 event in 2023. Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY via USA TODAY NETWORK
(Credit: Craig Bailey/Florida Today)

Let's not overlook the foundation for a positive scholastic career for our students. The foundation is not simply good schools, good teachers, or even good parents. Those, of course, are critical. The foundation, though, is nutrition. If a child is hungry he will not learn as much as he could if he were not hungry.Start with food and build from there. Add parental engagement plus have an emphasis on reading and math, and magical things will start to happen in our schools.

Here in America and Brevard County, no child should be hungry under any circumstances. As civilized people, we cannot accept anything less. To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, what we need now is moral ambition.

Will you help The Children's Hunger Project solve part of the problem with our weekend food packages for elementary school kids that teachers know are coming to school hungry on Monday mornings?Bob Barnes is the founder of The Children's Hunger Project and Aspiration Academy. ( and

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: school meal programs support children’s nutrition and overall health