Taylor Bishop, Ozarks News Journal

SPRINGFIELD, MO – According to Ozarks Food Harvest’s 2013 community statistics, over 24% of children in southwest Missouri are faced with food insecurity. That means one in four children are uncertain about where they will find their next meal.

“I’ve actually had kids take food out of the trash can before and that was heartbreaking,” said Roberson Elementary kindergarten teacher Cassie Downs.

Downs went on to explain that malnutrition is almost always evident among the students.

“They cannot concentrate on their work at all, they’re fidgety, fussy and you know probably just how you would feel if you had no food in your stomach and were expected to work,” said Downs.

The local food bank, Ozarks Food Harvest, is the only food bank that serves southwest Missouri. They have created a weekend backpack program that helps ensure hungry children will have food.

“Basically how the program works, we send a backpack home with all the students at those schools and it looks like any other child’s backpack but they’re full of non- perishable foods and they’re easy to open items that a child could take home and make on their own,” said Lindsey Neddenriep, Public Relations Manager at Ozarks Food Harvest.

The Food Harvest also distributes to more than 200 non-profit pantries in the Ozarks. Local food pantry, Crossline, also gives out clothes to those in need.

“We give out food for free, and also we write up vouchers for clothing and coats in the wintertime, we do that all the way through summer. That’s what we do; try to help people who are really in need,” said Crossline volunteer Joyce Reaves.

Local food pantries and food banks are pushing for a break in child hunger in the Ozarks. The children of the Ozarks currently make up 33% of the Ozark’s Food Harvest’s total clients.