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Turning youth compassion into action

Nearly 1 in 5 Colorado kids may not always know when or where they will get their next meal. Among all Colorado children, those under the age of 6 are most likely to be in poverty. They also are most at risk of living in homes without enough food.

Two upcoming summits for middle school and high school youths aim to equip them to know what they can do to combat those figures from the 2015 Kids Count in Colorado campaign.

“We know a lot of kids aren’t aware of how extensive youth hunger is here at home,” said Elaine Murphy, youth coordinator for St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Denver Metro Council, which is sponsoring the event. “We want the participants to think, ‘How can I help?’”

Tackling Childhood Hunger in Colorado is set from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, at St. Joseph Parish in Golden. A second summit is set from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, April 8, 2016, at Most Precious Blood Parish in Denver.

The summits, which are also open to adults, will include personal stories from caseworkers, simulation of a family facing food insecurity, a forum on youth who are hungry at school and action plan workshops.

“We are bringing people in who work with hunger and children in Colorado,” Murphy said. “They will share compelling human stories of people they know and how they found themselves in a situation of hunger crisis.”

Organizations partnering with SVDP to present the events include Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, Catholic Charities, Hunger Free Colorado and Evergreen Christian Outreach Food Bank.

Lunch at the summits will be a “thrifty meal,” Murphy said, and will model what a family of four below poverty level ($24,250 annual income) would likely serve with their $600 a month grocery budget—$20 per day for the entire family or $1.66 per person per meal.

“It most likely will be a lot of starch, not much in the way of fresh produce and no meat,” she said. “We’ll talk about the nutritional value of that and why there is an obesity problem among that population because of the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, if parents are trying to work two minimum wage jobs or are in an apartment without a fully functioning kitchen, they may be grabbing lots of junk food.”

Carmen Numme, food program coordinator for Catholic Charities Early Childhood Education division, sees the effects of food insufficiency in her work with children age 5 and under and pregnant women.

“It may not be what you think of when you think of someone starving; it comes out in more subtle ways,” Numme said. “They might be getting enough calories but the food may not have the nutrients they need so we see lots of cavities and kids too small or too big for their age.

Kids who aren’t getting enough to eat are more likely to have developmental issues. They may not be able to identify shapes and colors.”

Though the sad reality of hunger in the local community will be presented to build awareness and empathy, youth will also learn how to turn their compassion into action.

“We’ll be talking about the good news: the food banks and organizations that send kids food home in backpacks every weekend during the school year and in the summer,” Murphy said. “We’ll have a fair (at the summit) where participants can ask questions of volunteers who help.”

Participants will explore building awareness through poetry, art and social networking—what fits their interests, skills and potential audience.

“We’re really focusing on the ability of participants to get involved so they are empowered to do something,” Murphy said. “We want them to think, ‘How can I bring this back to my parish or school or youth group?’”

Youth want to help but need to know how to do so, said Teri Lauwers, religious education director at St. Joseph’s.

“Until our young people have an experience such as the hunger summit, the reality of those struggles … may just seem like a story,” she said.

Organizers are reaching out to students in parish religious education programs and in Catholic schools, especially those preparing for confirmation.

“We want to capture the youths’ imaginations early on,” Murphy said. “A personal connection captivates you for life.”

Cost of the summit is $5 per person. St. Joseph Parish Education Center is located at 968 Ulysses St. in Golden. Most Precious Blood Parish Center is located at 2250 S. Harrison St. in Denver.

For More Information

Contact Elaine Murphy at murphyemary@gmail.com

Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.
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