Beattyville, Kentucky has the dubious distinction of being the poorest “white” town in the United States, according to a recent report in The Guardian newspaper.
Of communities of more than 1,000 people, Beattyville is among the four lowest income towns in the country, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of 2008-2012, the latest statistics available.
Beattyville’s median household income is just $12,361, placing it as the third lowest income town in the US, according to the Census Bureau survey.
To help address the needs of impoverished children in this hard-hit community, described by The New York Times as one of the “hardest” places to live in America, Americans Helping Americans® has been partnering with the Lee County Family Resource Center to provide shoes to children who show up at the Beattyville Elementary School with worn out shoes many sizes too big, or wearing flip flops in the dead of winter.
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This year, Americans Helping Americans® is planning to take on another project in partnership with the Family Resource Center – ensuring children don’t go hungry over the weekend during the school year.
Family Resource Center director Sherry Lanham explained that within the past two years, two of the community’s largest employers – a factory and a prison – have closed resulting in hundreds of people being put out of work, in addition to the high unemployment rate which had already existed before the closings.
More than 80 percent of the children at the school qualify for free lunch, with another 10 percent qualifying for reduced-price lunch, according to Lanham.
“Many of our children come to school hungry in the mornings and on Monday several ask for extra food,” she said.
Through its weekend food program, the Family Resource Center serves between 50 and 75 children depending on need, which varies as families move in and out of the country.
Each Friday afternoon, sacks are filled with items that students can open themselves, are non-perishable and don’t require cooking such as Pop Tarts, Vienna sausages, chips, cereal bars, graham crackers, cereal bowls, Rice Krispies treats, cheese and crackers, snack cakes, Jell-O cups and other items.
In addition, Lanham said they also try to send home left over cereal, milk, juice, etc., from the school lunchroom.
“If the children do not get the food items, they will have limited food for the weekend or holiday breaks,” Lanham said. “Also, during bad weather and snow days students need extra food.
“The end of the month is especially hard because families do not have food stamps left and food runs out,” she added.
Children who are hungry obviously cannot do well in school.
“If children do not have enough food, their brains cannot function and they cannot learn,” Lanham said. “Also, if they are hungry they look for a way to relieve that including stealing and lying to get the food they need.
“Children who are hungry cannot learn in class and are often disruptive to the entire school,” she commented.
Lanham noted that children who are hungry either at school or at home are not worried about homework or school work.
“They are worried about their next meal and everything else is unimportant.”
Lanham said she frequently has children coming to her Friday morning and asking “Do I get food this weekend?”
Children are also anxious to see how much food is in their bag so they can prepare it for the weekend.
“We have children who say they put their food under the bed and share it with siblings and make it last the entire weekend,” she said. “We had one small boy who would try and save part of his school lunch to take home to his sister. We gave him extra food for his sister and he was very happy.”
She also has children who are leaving elementary school to attend middle school expressing concern about what will happen to them and wondering if they will still get food to take home for the weekend.
The short term goal of the weekend food program is to get food in the hands of children in need for that weekend.
“The long term goal is to show the families that we care and want to help and encourage them to come to us for help,” she said. “We also want to hook them up with any resources we can find for food.
“The primary and long term goal is to make sure children are not HUNGRY!”