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Teacher's viral Facebook post highlights hunger problem in schools

Posted March 29

FAIRVIEW, Ore. — For many teachers, the most important part of the job has nothing to do with pop quizzes or midterm reports.

That’s certainly the case for Katherine Gibson Howton, a teacher at Reynolds Learning Academy in Fairview, Oregon — according to The Huffington Post. Howton recently posted a photo of a cupboard filled with peanut butter, bread, honey, oatmeal and other snacks to her Facebook page.

“Almost every teacher I know has a cabinet in their classroom with emergency food for their hungry students,” she wrote. “Children come into our classroom every day telling us they are hungry. Many more never say a word because they are embarrassed and it is up to us to notice that they are distracted, tired, grumpy.”

Howton went on to explain that “skilled and compassionate teachers” will often ask their students if they have food in their homes, and check to make sure they’re eating regularly. But they don’t stop there.

“The really skilled teachers just know when to make an extra sandwich, grab an orange, make a bag of popcorn or bowl of oatmeal, and set it in front of a student and tell them to eat,” she wrote.

Howton’s post struck a chord with fellow teachers, parents and hundreds of strangers. Her message and photo were shared by the Love What Matters Facebook page, where as of Monday night it had garnered more than 9,700 likes and 1,400 shares.

“I’m a kid who grew up needing free school lunches,” wrote one commenter. “Had they not been available, not only would my siblings and I have been far less healthy, but we certainly wouldn’t have performed very well in school. … It was usually many hours before we had food again.”

“I will never forget the kindness of my first grade teacher. I didn’t have the type of parents who made sure I had breakfast and I would sit in class with a rumbling stomach most days,” wrote another. “One day it was particularly noticeable during a quiet time, and she took me into the hallway and gave me crackers from her purse so the other kids wouldn’t see.”

Eighty-four percent of students at Howton’s school — Reynolds Learning Academy — qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 20 percent come from unstable housing situations, The Huffington Post reports.

“I have never seen a student waste the food I give them. I have never felt that the food is a distraction,” she told The Huffington Post. “Feeling hungry feels scary. If satisfying their stomach makes them feel less afraid, less anxious, more cared for … everything else becomes easier.”

Howton told Scary Mommy that she wrote the post in response to the federal government’s recent plan to eliminate funding for after-school programs that serve kids living in poverty. She hopes her message will highlight the very real problem that exists in so many U.S. schools.

“They’re cutting the federal safety net, and we’re providing this invisible safety net that no one even knows about,” she told Scary Mommy.

Jessica Ivins is a content manager for KSL.com and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.

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