Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Snow Days leave many out in the cold

I love the snow. There is nothing so peaceful as fresh powder in the early morning stillness.

As I check my phone at 4:30 am I hear the familiar chime. Once. Twice. Three times.

There it is. My three different notifications from PGCPS letting me know to turn off all alarms and snuggle back in for a few extra hours of blissful sleep. Soon enough the kids internal alarms kick in and my bed is quickly invaded by little hands, feet, eyes and mouths. First they happily and quietly join me under the covers but after a short while they are fully awake and clamoring with excitement at the prospect of a Snow Day.

In our house Snow Days can mean movies and games, sledding and snow angels, snow ball fights and coming in from the cold to hot chocolate and cookies. I sometimes scour Pintrest and the internet using the time to try out new recipes. But I know all too well the worry some families feel when they receive the notification that there's no school today.

When you are operating on a tight budget an extra day at home can break you. Hourly workers will not be paid for the missed time at work and face both higher bills and reduced pay.  Financially, spiritually and emotionally the strain leaves you physically drained and on edge unable to enjoy the extra time with your children because you are concerned about what the extra hours home will mean for your heat and electric bills. You may not have the food to cover additional meals and many mothers will go without as they try to provide for their children. This is an unfortunate reality for far too many families in Prince George's County and the surrounding region.

In Prince George’s County, 15.6 percent of residents (134,040 out of 858,539
individuals) are food insecure. **

 11.4 percent of children (23,810 out of 208,106 children) in Prince George’s County are
food insecure

 ** Data comes from Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap

This winter we have had multiple Snow Days that have occurred on or around the first of the month. This is an especially vulnerable time for families dealing with food insecurity. There is a common myth of the "First of the Month" for recipients of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) commonly known as Food Stamps. In fact SNAP benefits are staggered anywhere from the first to the eleventh of a given month and depending on how well a family has budgeted for the 30 day cycle the last few days can mean having little to no food. Many families count on the children being out of the house at school to receive two meals during these lean times and Snow Days mean that these children, our most vulnerable population miss those important meals.

Having studied food insecurity and food deserts in the Washington Metro Region, every time we are hit with a storm and subsequent Snow Days I am reminded of the thousands of residents that will go hungry as a consequence of missing work and school due to the weather. The stillness of the snow masks women and children that are suffering in silence as they look at bare cabinets with hungry eyes. We can take steps as a community to help families in need during winter storms: As you are stocking up at the grocery store, buy a few additional pantry staples and donate them to your local food bank; Governmental agencies should proactively contact residents and remind them of options and locations where they may be able to get food to help stock their pantry in anticipation of winter weather events and Snow Days; Schools can become community resources for families to come and either receive direct services or referrals for food and other needs.

I know first hand feeding a family of seven on a tight budget is no easy feat. During Snow Days we often take a stew pot approach. I take pantry staples some veggies and a little meat and create a healthy filling meal that is low cost but we can snack on all day. Besides what is better than a yummy hot bowl of soup with homemade cornbread as the winds howl outside. Individuals, nonprofits and governmental agencies working together can make that Snow Day meal a reality for many families in Prince George's County dealing with food insecurity.  We will triumph together.

**Angela Angel is running for Maryland House of Delegates, Legislative District 25. Visit http://angelaangel.nationbuilder.com/join to learn how you can help us triumph together. **

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