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Impact of Food Security on Learning

Updated: Apr 25, 2021

When students walk into Amanda Woltzen’s second-grade classroom at Jefferson Elementary School, it’s often evident to her that they’re hungry.

“You know immediately that there’s that hunger,” Amanda says. “It’s hard for them to concentrate on academics. We’re also taking care of the socio-emotional side. If you are trying to teach a lesson, it’s really hard for a kiddo to concentrate on the academic, the social, the emotional content, if all they can think about is, ‘I’m hungry.’ ”

She says anyone deciding where to donate during Give DeKalb County should consider the Barb Food Mart.

“The Food Mart plays a big role in our community,” Amanda says. “It’s huge, what they do for our families.”

As a mother of three boys, two of them who attend Jefferson, she knows families have many needs. So while nutrition is foundational, if that’s the only need a family is able to meet, the resulting inability to pay for things such as utilities, clothes, or a pair of tennis shoes for gym class creates palpable stress.

“If there’s financial insecurity, and parents are feeling that pressure and that stress, even our youngest learners are intuitive, and they’re picking up on that,” Amanda says. “While that need of food security might be met at home, it might be because something else is being sacrificed to get there. They might be fed, but what else isn’t being taken care of because those resources are being put in that place?”

Then there’s the stress created by health risks during the pandemic, an unforeseen, difficult situation Amanda says the Barb Food Mart has handled wonderfully.

“Throughout the pandemic, the Food Mart has stepped up in a way that gives you goosebumps to think about,” she says. “They immediately jumped in and said, ‘How do we put things in our families’ hands in a way that’s going to keep them safe and nourished?’ When the Food Mart is filling that need, our families can focus on other needs in their lives that need to be met.”

Barb Food Mart makes things easy for families, by asking them what exactly they need - whether it’s ingredients for a vegetarian diet or disposable diapers.

“I would rather that we were able to ask a donor for a pack of diapers so you could spend those $15 on food, or on a backpack with a zipper that works,” says Pantry Director Joey Moore.

Joey says the Food Mart springs into action whenever emergencies arise.

“The minute somebody has a fire, we just show up with 10 boxes of food and all the laundry detergent you need,” she says.

Amanda says the Food Mart is able to help families because of the deep level of trust it’s established during its nearly 10 years of existence. Similarly, she says as a teacher with children in the district, she’ll reach out to parents and connect them with the Food Mart. In order for families to accept help, it must come from a place of compassion and understanding.

“There’s the fear that if you know that this is happening in our life, what other implications could that have for us?” Amanda says. “They really have to trust you, and our families can trust the Food Mart.”

“When we support parents feeding their kids, we’re not just feeding the kids,” Joey says. “We empower people to become stronger families, and whoever you define your family as, that’s your family.”

Amanda can see the power of the Food Mart the next time that child walks through her classroom door, and that student has a stomach full of nutritious food.

“Once that need is met, you see kids flourish,” she says.

“Then our whole community becomes stronger,” Joey says.

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