Originally Published: March 27, 2011 9:45 p.m.
Many underprivileged children nationwide start their day with a hot breakfast, thanks to state programs that make nutritious meals available to youngsters whose families cannot afford them.
Colorado, like Arizona, is struggling with seemingly neverending budget deficits. This year, those who run Colorado's Start Smart program, which provides the morning meals to kids, asked for an additional $124,229 to pay for the rising cost of the breakfasts. A legislative committee said no, and a political battle ensued. Finally, one legislator suggested that the government did not have to pay for everything, and there might be some charitable groups that could step up to the plate and fill the funding gap.
It turns out there were people willing to help. Members of the Community Roundtable, a group of Colorado Springs-based church ministries, secured pledges to cover the entire $124,000-plus. A happy ending, right? Not so fast.
Legislators in both parties promptly turned down the money, saying they could deal with the shortfall through the legislative process. Editors of the Colorado Springs Gazette, among others, were incredulous.
"Seriously?" the paper's editorial stated. "This is what churches do. It's one reason they are tax exempt. If private organizations want to feed children, by all means take the money, or stop complaining about budget shortfalls and need for new taxes. If religion pays for breakfasts, government can use its own school breakfast funds to pay for something else. If churches pay for the breakfasts, it means they're funded by people choosing to help and not by people forced to pay taxes that may cause their own children to go without."
Despite our current suffering economy, America is still the land of embarrassing riches. And we're also still the people who hate to pay taxes.
Put the two together, and just like the Community Roundtable did, we can meet any need that crops up. And, if we take a lesson from Colorado, when citizens step up to help, government needs to get out of the way.
With a little generosity, personal sacrifice and creativity, we can meet the needs in our communities created by state budget shortfalls. And unlike many government programs, we can meet those needs more effectively and with less money.
One local example is that of the Hungry Kids Project, spearheaded by Ron Barnes. Barnes saw the need for nutritious food for children who received free or reduced lunches during the days they were not in school. The Hungry Kids project provides backpacks with two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners to these students on Friday afternoons. Barnes said the cost for the meals is about $209 per child per year. Volunteers and district kitchen staff work to produce and pack the bags. On Friday, 86 children from took home backpacks of food from PUSD, and happily, the Humboldt Unified School District started a similar program on Friday, sending home food for 27 children from two district elementary schools.
The Prescott program has four teams of volunteers, Barnes said, who are so fulfilled in their service that they want to continue for the foreseeable future. However, that program can use donations to continue. Those who would like to donate in Prescott may send checks to Prescott Education Foundation, 156 S. Granite St., Prescott, AZ 86303, marked Hungry Kids. For more information, call Barnes at 928-445-5300.
The Humboldt School District program needs both volunteers and donors, said Carm Staker, who is helping to start Hungry Kids in the Prescott Valley area. Those who would like to donate to the HUSD program may mail checks to The Connection, 6411 N. Robert Rd., Prescott Valley, AZ 86314, also marked Hungry Kids. Those who would like to volunteer in the HUSD project may call Carm Staker at (928) 772-9563.
With some innovation, donations and volunteer hours, more than 100 children in local communities will have nutritious food this weekend, and the only government involved is some assistance from the involved school districts.
If we can start a program such as this that is sure to grow and meet an important need in our communities, how many more needs can we meet with the same creativity, efficiency and attitude of caring?
With this kind of ingenuity, residents of both Colorado and Arizona could find themselves with a great deal of personal fulfillment and a lot less government, and taxes, in the bargain.