Millions of Low-Income Teens Don’t Have Enough to Eat

“Give us this day our daily bread.” I’ve said these words many times while praying the Lord’s Prayer. But I always pray for this “daily bread” as an analogy. Really what I’m praying is, “Give me what I need to make it through today: patience, grace, love, focus, peace.” I’ve never known what it means to go hungry and make a request to the Lord to provide my food for the day. The sad reality is that many young people in our own cities need this request to be answered literally.

Recently, the Urban Institute released a report detailing the prevalence of food insecurity among young people. According to the report, an estimated 6.8 million kids and teens experience food insecurity—regularly not having enough to eat. The consequences of food insecurity lead teens to steal items and resell them for money, engage in sex for money, and even end up in jail as a way of securing a regular meal.  

While millions of youth are suffering from the psychological and physical stress of not having enough to food to eat, many of us are responsible for a tremendous amount of food waste. According an Atlantic article, roughly 50% of all produce in the United States is thrown away. Whenever such a vast disparity exists, we should stop and ask ourselves how we’re contributing to the problem and how we can be part of the solution.  

Most of us probably feel at a loss when it comes to solving this problem. While we throw away copious amounts of food every week, we can’t really take that food and pass it out to the hungry. Moreover, the Urban Institute report documents the stigma many teens feel about not having enough food to eat, which causes them to hide their problem in an attempt to hide their shame. So the problem isn’t just about finding a way to waste less. It’s about finding the youth who are suffering; it’s about relationship. After all, the Bible constantly links food and fellowship, which causes me to think food insecurity must also result in fellowship insecurity.

The Urban Institute report touches on this link by stating that food insecurity is related to “the effects of racial and economic segregation,” as well as the lack of “resources and supports available in local communities and neighborhoods.” While combating these realties seems daunting, there are ways we can make the problem, and also the solution, more personal.

One of the most convicting passages of scripture comes from the gospel of Matthew. Jesus is talking about the final judgment and who will experience eternity with Him. He commends those who will enter Heaven by saying:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Jesus tells us that in serving those around us, we are recognizing the image of God imprinted in each individual. So how do we ensure that we are both serving and seeing these young people and families experiencing food insecurity as image bearers of Christ?

My church has partnered with a local elementary school, and many of our members mentor students after school on a weekly basis. Every Thanksgiving, we collect groceries to give to the families at the school. What if every church partnered with a school to provide fellowship and food in this way? By doing so, we’re not just giving food to the hungry; we’re preventing sexual exploitation and criminal behavior. Most importantly, we’re serving Jesus. But before we think we think too highly of ourselves, we should realize we need these relationships too. Anytime we interact with someone whose experience is different than ours, we are better for it.    

The Urban Institute also lists several policy implications of its findings: the need to increase the adequacy of food stamps, strengthen teen nutrition programs, and create better job opportunities for youth. We can partake in these solutions by writing to our Congressman or woman about the need to improve food stamp programs. We can join community groups that work towards creating teen nutrition programs. We can work with our own businesses and bosses to explore the possibility of hiring teens from low-income neighborhoods.

We should continue to pray that God supplies our daily bread, whether that bread is figurative or literal. We should pray this for ourselves and for others and have faith that God will answer these prayers. But we should also put our faith into action and work to address the prevalent problem of food and fellowship insecurity.

-Cristina Squiers graduated from SMU Dedman School of Law, where she served as Editor-in-chief of the SMU Law Review. She received a bachelor's degree in Anthropology and a certificate in Values and Public Life from Princeton University. Between college and law school, Cristina completed a fellowship in Philadelphia to start a mentoring program for those aging out of foster care. She currently works at an international law firm as a litigation associate.