Last updated: July 21. 2014 1:25PM - 531 Views

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Setting aside the fact that it is mandated by law, why did your parents send you to school?

While this might seem like a trick question to some, it is not. For most of us, the obvious answer is that we were sent to school for the opportunities to learn and prepare for life as adults. For others, however, the answers aren’t so obvious and, in fact, are quite concerning.

During a recent planning session at the United Way of the Wyoming Valley to develop strategies to better address the issues of childhood poverty, a local school administrator told us that attendance at an area elementary school with a particularly high percentage of children from low-income families is actually quite good. Sadly, the reason for good attendance levels is far from what it seems. Some parents are sending their children to school, even when they are sick, because at school their kids will get an opportunity – to eat.

Going to school because the school’s lunch might be your only meal of the day is shocking and troubling; yet it is the reality for many young students in our community.

Since hearing this comment, I have talked to a number of public school teachers who have shared stories of the struggles children in poverty face every day. Across the Wyoming Valley, there are 19 school buildings in which more than half of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches. Even in communities that seem to be “better off,” poverty exists and the teachers recognize which students need additional help, support and kindness. Additionally, one teacher suggested that some kids want to go to school because school is a safer environment than staying home.

Children can’t learn when they are hungry and if children live in the shadows of homelessness, domestic abuse or addictions, the last thing on that child’s mind during the school year is the math quiz on Friday and the science project due the following Monday. For the most vulnerable children, the summer months are often harder without the support and safety of the school system.

As the United Way of Wyoming Valley sets its sights on strategies to reduce childhood poverty, one of our tools continues to be our annual Christmas in July Food Drive. For 26 years, the United Way has asked area businesses to conduct a food drive to support the Weinberg Food Bank at the Commission on Economic Opportunity (CEO). Last year, 77,000 pounds of food (or monetary equivalent) was collected. In addition to CEO, financial contributions to the Christmas in July program benefit a number of food pantries throughout the community and agencies that serve children and families in need.

This year, we are grateful that 34 companies are participating and we hope to set a new collection record. There is still time to help and if you would like to make a contribution, please contact John Winslow at 570-829-6711, ext. 237.

The late civil rights leader and South African President Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Clearly, poverty in our community is different than it is in Third World countries, but we can still aim higher and do better. Ensuring the children in the Wyoming Valley have food, safety and opportunities to learn and succeed shouldn’t be a trick question.

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