Patty Barker, Arkansas No Kid Hungry Campaign Director

Access to healthy food isn’t a luxury for Arkansas families. It’s a necessity for children’s long-term success. Studies show students who struggle with persistent hunger report lower math scores as well as higher rates of absenteeism, behavioral issues, and grade repetition. With the proper fuel, however, kids’ academic achievement, attendance, and attentiveness rises. In the Q&A below, Patty Barker, Excel by Eight steering committee member and Arkansas No Kid Hungry campaign director, shares how shoring up this component of our resource grid will help improve outcomes for all Arkansas children.

Why do you believe food security is essential to a strong resource grid?
Ensuring access to nutritious food is key to children’s health and academic success. By providing a child with regular, good-tasting meals, we can improve their well-being; help them stay active and engaged; and enhance their academic performance. Food security allows our kids—and our communities—to thrive.

Beyond nutrition, what ripple effects does food insecurity have on children?

Research confirms children who are hungry struggle academically. These learning losses, regardless of when they occur, are often compounded. Left unaddressed, children run the risk of never catching up—putting them at a disadvantage both in school and  later in life.

Why do you believe food insecurity is an economic issue?

Food insecurity and poverty rates mirror each other. If we want a strong economy, we must consider implementing long-term policy solutions to help lift up struggling families by advancing the child tax credit; livable wages; higher education and training opportunities; safety net programming; and more.

How can we expand access to or better leverage our state’s existing resources?

We must tackle the social stigma associated with income-based eligibility for free- or reduced-price meals, which can be a barrier to family participation. We should permanently extend the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s child nutrition COVID-19 waivers that give school districts greater flexibility in serving students. Kids who are required to attend school—and who receive no-cost bus rides, desks, books, iPads, and more—should also have nutritious school meals free of charge, regardless of their families’ income.

Want to learn more about Arkansas No Kid Hungry’s efforts? Click here.