Monday, September 29, 2014

SNAP Challenge: Can you live on $4.50 a day?

by Lindsey Burks, Marketing Associate

Feeding America asked people across the nation one question – can you eat on just $4.50 a day?

Over 47 million Americans face this difficult task every day because they rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) to get enough to eat. So many of us have grown accustomed to morning Starbucks coffee and eating dinner out, and we don’t often take the time to reflect on the fact that an enormous number of people are struggling to even get enough food on the table.

To encourage the public to get a sense of what life is like for millions of low-income Americans facing hunger, Feeding America devised the SNAP Challenge. By accepting this challenge, participants commit to eating on a limited food budget – $4.50 a day, or just $1.50 per meal.

Pete, our resident vegetarian and United Way CFO, took on the SNAP Challenge and conquered it. However, his defeat didn't leave him feeling great – instead he emerged with a new found understanding of just how difficult it is for an individual, let alone a family, to eat healthy on that tight of a budget. Let’s walk through his experience:

His first step – shopping! Following the rules of the challenge, Pete bypassed membership stores, such as Costco, and headed straight to Safeway and Big Lots. At Safeway, Pete focused on finding his breakfast and lunch foods for the entire week. At the end of his trip, his cart was filled with only 4 items: a box of oatmeal, a loaf of store-brand bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of grape jelly. This weeks’ worth of breakfast and lunch items cost a total of $8.27. Although Pete spent so little of his budget and managed to buy the bulk of the food he would need for the week, the foods he purchased had minimal nutritional value.

Dinner options were next on Pete’s list. As a vegetarian, he did not need to worry about spending the lion share of his budget on meat, which is often the biggest expense on the grocery list. Instead he headed straight to Big Lots where he knew he could count on finding canned goods cheap. At $1.00 per can, Pete grabbed assorted beans and mixed vegetables.

Throughout the week, Pete began to appreciate the luxuries he frequently enjoys; missing his family’s weekly pizza night was the roughest. Aside from missing out on luxuries, he realized the toll high-sodium and high-sugar canned foods can take. Pete exclaimed, “You can get by for a week and have it not be very disruptive but if you had to eat this way for even a month, let alone if it was your lifestyle, you would begin to feel the effects.”

Working in the nonprofit industry, Pete already had a strong appreciation for the services provided by food banks but during the SNAP challenge, he realized even more the vitality of those services. The food that SNAP participants can afford are typically not foods with nutritional value, leading to medical issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and more expensive issues in the long run. We have an obligation – we must provide better locally and ensure that our food banks are well stocked so that we can eliminate hunger in our community.

Although Hunger Action Month is coming to an end, there is so much you can continue to do to raise awareness and fight hunger. Spread the word about our South Sound 211 Center; by simply dialing 2-1-1, people can be connected to food banks or apply for the basic food assistance program. Don’t need help but want to lend your hand? Check out our volunteer center for ways to get involved at your local food bank: http://www.volunteerpiercecounty.org/

Friday, September 26, 2014

Attendance: Families Make the Difference

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager for Early Grade Excellence


As a parent you fundamentally shape whether children develop a habit of attendance and have the resources they need to get to school every day. Parents can deliver the message to their children and to other parents that missing more than 18 days of an 180-day school year can put students at academic risk. So what are things you can do to promote a habit of attendance?

Avoid extended vacations that require your children to miss school. Try to line up vacations with the school’s schedule. The same goes for doctor’s appointments.

Set a regular bedtime and morning routine. Make sure children get 9-11 hours of sleep. Make sure that when the lights go out, so do the cell phones, video games and computers.

·       Set up homework routines. Make sure the child has the time and space to complete their homework. Eliminate distractions as much as possible and help to keep them focused.

·       Get to know the teachers and administrators. Make sure you introduce your child to teachers before school starts and keep in touch with the teachers.

·       Set an example for your child. Show him or her that attendance matters to you and that you won’t allow an absence unless someone is truly sick. Don’t ask older children to help with daycare and household errands that would keep them from school.

·       Remember, you can turn to the school for help. Many schools offer a variety of services and supports for the whole family. 

      Thank you for making a difference for your children by having them in school every day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tackling Child Hunger One Power Pack at Time


On a national scale, 16.2 million kids in America struggle with hunger. In Washington State, more than 440,000 children live in homes with not enough food on the table. In Pierce County alone, 110,000 people suffer from hunger, with 39% percent of these individuals being children (Northwest Harvest, 2013).  Every day, both on a national scale and in our very own neighborhoods, children are affected by hunger and are not able to get the proper nutrition they need to focus to the best of their ability in school.

According to Hunger in our Schools, there are three common side effects seen in the classroom from children who suffer from hunger. An inability to concentrate, poor academic performance, and suffering through headaches and stomach aches are all unfortunate consequences displayed in children who have not been properly fed. Not only does hunger affects a child’s ability to focus, it also is more likely that these same children will “...be behind in their academic development compared to other children which ultimately makes it more difficult for them to reach the same level of development as their fellow food secure peers” (Feeding America, 2014).While three out of four teachers (77%) agree that addressing childhood hunger must be a national priority, there are steps that can be taken now in order to help put an end to this child hunger.

Because United Way of Pierce County realizes that a school cafeteria may be the only way some children receive nutritious food in their day, they have decided to partner with St. Leo’s Food Connection to create a program called Power Pack. This project serves to help bridge the gap on weekends by providing children in the free and reduced lunch program with six kid-friendly meals comprised of fresh fruits and vegetables. Initially, the program was set to serve 470 children in the Tacoma School District, but through a collaborative effort, United Way has helped extend the program to 590 students, and now include the Clover Park School District as well.

Interested in getting involved? Learn how you can help make an impact through either holding a Power Pack food drive, volunteering to build or deliver packs, or even making a donation to purchase food. Together, we can fight hunger and make a difference in a child’s ability to learn in a classroom.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What I Didn't Know as the Parent of a Young Student

by: Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager for Early Grade Excellence

When I was the parent of a young student I didn't
know or understand the importance of attendance and that consistent attendance, starting in the early grades and continuing on through high school, really does matter.

I didn't know that...
My child could suffer academically if they missed 10%, or just 18 school days each year. Even in Kindergarten, First and Second grade this impacts their ability to learn.

I didn't know that...
·        It doesn't matter whether the absences are excused or unexcused. They all represent lost time in the classroom and lost opportunities to learn.

I didn't know that...
·        Attendance matters as early as Kindergarten. Studies show many children who miss too many days of Kindergarten and First Grade struggle academically in later years.

I didn't know that...
·        Preschool is a great time to start building the habit of good attendance. Studies show that poor attendance in preschool can predict absenteeism in later grades.

I didn't know that...
·        By Middle and High School, chronic absence is a leading sign that a student will drop out.

I didn't know that...
·        Too many absent students can affect the whole classroom, slowing down instruction and learning.


Now I want to make sure that parents of young children understand how important attendance is and how much it can affect their child’s future. Let’s all work together to share this message. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

We Have To Start Young

by: Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Success

Research has shown that the early years in a child’s life, when the brain is forming, represent a critically important window of opportunity to develop a child’s full potential and shape key academic, social and cognitive skills that determine a child’s success in school and life.

Even at the start of Kindergarten, children from low-income families lag academically behind peers from higher-income families on key indicators because of a lack of access to early learning experiences.

We know that high-quality early learning opportunities are a sound investment that reduces the need for other services that may include remedial education and grade repetition. Improving access to these opportunities would “change the story” for our children.

Building a habit of regular attendance, starting with preschoolers, ensures children fully benefit from high quality learning experiences and gain skills that will serve them well in school. 

Summer is an important time for preparing children and their families to start school, ready to learn and ready to thrive. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why Third Grade Reading Ability Matters

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

“The fact is that the low-income fourth graders who cannot meet the proficient level in reading today are all too likely to become our nation’s lowest-income, least skilled, least productive, and most costly citizens of tomorrow. Simply put we are cementing educational failure and poverty into the next generation.”

This is a startling statement from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who continues to do extensive research on the WHY behind the importance of third grade reading ability. Clearly, we have to do something different – something in addition to what is happening at our schools, in our homes, and in our communities.  That is exactly what our Impact Team here at United Way, focused on Early Grade Excellence, is working toward. We know that children learn to read from kindergarten until third grade, and from third grade on they read to learn.

In collaboration with Tacoma Campaign for Grade Level Reading, United Way of Pierce County is bringing youth literacy programs, youth recreational programs, the Tacoma Public Library, Child Care Aware, First 5 Fundamentals and Metro Parks to focus on identifying and addressing the barriers to children’s ability to read. Through this partnership we are creating an aligned, integrated, and coordinated pathway from birth through third grade for children so that they may be prepared for life and set up for success.
While we are fiercely committed to improving the education and lives of young children in Pierce County, this work begins and ends with parents and their children. Here’s how you can be a part of our education revolution:
  • Read and talk with your child daily - ensure they are cognitively ready for kindergarten.
  • Create opportunities for your child to build their reading skills - utilize volunteer reading tutors!
  • Develop a "culture" of school attendance - chronic absence, even among young children, is a clear predictor of drop out.
  • Encourage reading and learning games at home during the summer months - avoid the dreaded "summer slide" so your child does not lose their reading ability and fall behind before the new school year begins.