'Fight Against Hunger' aims to keep tummies full for Eau Claire little ones

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- To donate to Fight Against Hunger, click here.



In Eau Claire County, 1 in 5 children and adults are considered "food insecure", that's according to Feed My People Food Bank.

At Prairie Ridge Early Learning Center, the Fight Against Hunger has become a mission: full tummies ready minds and happy hearts.

Thursday night, we learn more about the program through the Eau Claire Area School District and hear the story of one mother who is faced with the daily task of trying to find the next meal for her children.

"I think we hear the words "food insecurity", we think about hunger, sometimes people think "that's not in our community, that's not in a place like Eau Claire,” said Jill Elliot, Family and Community Partnership Coordinator for the Eau Claire Area School District.

No, food insecurity does not discriminate. Elliot says many parents must make meal choices every day.

"And we have a lot of parents that will say something like, ‘I didn't eat today so my kids could.’ Food insecurity is having to pick and choose if you are going to pay for your rent or get the groceries that you need,” said Elliot.

For Shayla Romero, a single mother of 3, these are the difficult choices she makes every day.

"It gets very stressful; there have been days that I won't eat so they have enough food to last the week. I’m thankful that food share is a thing because without it I don't think there would be anyway to support my kids,” said Romero.

Raising three small children is challenging enough, the victim of a recent identity theft has left Shayla broke and worried about where her kids will get their next meal.

"Him, himself, he eats so much because he's growing and Marcelino, the one that goes to Prairie Ridge, he's growing too, so if he doesn't eat he seems more groggy, he doesn't want to learn and he doesn't have the attention to stay focused on something,” said Romero.

Three-year old Marcelino, who attends Prairie Ridge, is no different than any other child that has gone to school on an empty stomach.

"In this building, we are talking about young children, we have 3 and 4 year olds and they still have a lot of active brain development happening, the research on food insecurity and how it impacts the brain development isn't crystal clear right now but we know it's impacting their ability to concentrate,” said Jayme Gundlach with Prairie Ridge.

"We know that from birth to three is a very important age group and early childhood altogether is so important for learning and developing those brains and if their belly is not full, then their brains are not turned on and they are not ready to learn,” said Gundlach.

Prairie Ridge's Fight Against Hunger project is four-fold: an on-site food pantry, family educational garden, a hands-on crockpot project and summer food delivery.

"What I love about this project is that it's not something that we dream about and theorize, we actually got our hands dirty, literally in the garden, stacking food, opening boxes, delivering the food, it's something you know every dollar, every can that is donated is going to somebody,” said Elliot.

For Shayla Romero, the Fight Against Hunger project and the food pantry is "a life saver.”

"You can see a big difference, once they have something to eat and they know that their bellies are full, you can see that they're happy because they ate,” said Romero.