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Amelia Long ’06, Tiffany Lo ’05, Beth Coddington ’05 and Maria Nankova ’05, students in the Community Research Seminar, completed a study titled "Hungry Children in Middletown."
 
Posted 05.23.05

Students Discover Hunger Problem in Middletown Children

Four Wesleyan students have discovered that one out of five local children lives in a household that suffers from food insecurity.

Beth Coddington ’05, Tiffany Lo ’05, Amelia Long ’06 and Maria Nankova ’05 presented results of their study, "Hungry Children in Middletown” on May 12. The students were enrolled in the Community Research Seminar taught by Rob Rosenthal, professor of sociology.

The Middlesex Coalition for Children commissioned the survey. The project’s purpose was to assess the rate of food insecurity among Middletown households with children under 18.

The USDA defines food insecurity as: "a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire these foods in socially acceptable ways."

The students found that 20.1 percent of Middletown children (1,883 children) were living in food-insecure households during the past 12 months. Of those children, 15.5 percent (1,452 children) experienced food insecurity in their household but were shielded from actual hunger. However, the other 4.6 percent (431 children) experienced food insecurity with hunger within the past year. The rest of Middletown’s children, an estimated 79.9 percent (7,481 children) lived in houses that were food secure.

"We tapped into a fantastic team of young researchers," says Betsy Morgan, director of the Middlesex Coalition for Children. “Thanks to our research team, we know there is a serious problem."

They also found food insecurity is about as prevalent in Middletown as it is in the U.S. as a whole – nationally with 16.7 percent of households with children were food insecure — but food security with hunger among Middletown households with children exceeds the national average of 3.8 percent.

The results are based on 329 telephone and paper surveys, administered by the students and local organizations. The survey was designed by the USDA and is currently used by the federal government to measure food insecurity at the state and national level. The students made calls between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. through 4 p.m. Sunday.

Lo, an earth and environmental science major, chose to take part in the research project to integrate herself in the Middletown community.

“The results were rather surprising as I didn't expect to see so much hunger going on in Middletown,” she says. “But finding this out was definitely the first step towards ending hunger here."

The students also asked people about their coping strategies for when they were running low on food or money to buy food. The students found a trend of higher usage of food pantries than food stamps among Middletown’s more food-insecure and lower income households, something that differs from the national tendency.

Long, a government major, said the food-secure families surveyed were surprised to hear so many households in their own community were having trouble affording food.

“Also, a lot of people seem to think that individual factors like laziness and poor spending habits are the biggest factors contributing to hunger in families as opposed to bigger structural issues like outdated income qualifications for food stamps,” Long says.

The research project grew out of the past year’s work by the Middletown Childhood Hunger Task Force. The Task Force was prompted by the discovery that some Middletown families with pre-schoolers didn’t have enough food. Composed of local anti-hunger agencies, the Task Force is co-sponsored by the the Middlesex Coalition for Children and Middletown Mayor Domenique Thornton, who attended the student’s presentation.

Now that the students have documented their findings, they are working on ways other Wesleyan students can further help the reduce or eliminate problem in the future.

“We’re going to need everybody in Middletown to help these children,” Morgan says. “It’s going to be a long-term project to build up and strengthen our charitable food programs. We’ve got out work cut out for us.”
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor