The faces of family hunger in the Black Hills — Part 3 of 8

Through Feeding South Dakota’s BackPack Program, more than 5,500 packages of food are distributed weekly to hungry children across the state to provide at-risk children with nutritious, easy-to-prepare foods during weekends and holidays when school is not in session. Courtesy photo

BELLE FOURCHE — Many local families struggle with hunger pains in the Black Hills. The following is a story of one local family whose names have been changed to protect their privacy.

The Smith family lives in a modest home in the Northern Black Hills and has struggled with issues of hunger over the last handful of years.

Josh and his wife, Sam, have been married for 10 years and have three children: John, 7, Gavin, 5, and Grace, who had her first birthday in January.

Josh and Sam were raised in a rural Black Hills community and dreamed their children could experience the childhood they reminisced so fondly about.

“When we first got married, our lives were pretty stable,” said Sam. “Both of us worked full time, we had a place to live, enough income to pay the bills, and could afford the things that our children needed.”

The first domino toppled when, in 2010, Sam lost her job. Josh was laid off a year later.

“We had just moved into a new home, so the loss was especially tough,” said Josh.

 “We did everything we could to find other work, but the job market was so limited and we just couldn’t find anything,” said Josh. “At times, it made me feel like I wasn’t doing everything I could as a parent to provide for my children.”

“We never thought our lives would turn out like this –– no one does,” said Sam.

The couple struggled to pay for even the most basic of necessities.

“If we did have the money to pay some bills, it didn’t stretch far, and we constantly had to make tough decisions like choosing between buying food or diapers and paying the electric bill,” added Josh. “We started to notice some behavioral issues with the children and even got a few calls from John’s school. That is when we realized this was bigger than us and asked for help,” said Josh. “If it weren’t for the food bank and the free and reduced lunch and BackPack programs at the kids’ school, I don’t know how they would get the nutrition their bodies needed.”

South Dakota’s public schools provide free or reduced meals to children at risk of hunger through the national school lunch program, and nearly 40 percent of our state’s school-aged children qualify for free and reduced meals. In the local area, 30.4 percent of the Spearfish School District, 40 percent of the Meade School District, 44.2 percent of the Belle Fourche School District, and 50 percent of the Lead-Deadwood School District qualify for the free and reduced school lunch program.

“Each Thursday or Friday, John comes home with a bag full of healthy food that enables me to make quick, easy meals for all my children,” said Sam, describing the BackPack Program that distributes more than 5,500 packages of food weekly to hungry children across the state to provide at-risk children with nutritious, easy-to-prepare foods during weekends and holidays when school is not in session. “Josh and I may have to skip meals, but we make sure our children never have to. Without help from the school and food bank, though, I really don’t know how we’d feed them.”

The levels of food insecure children in the Northern Black Hills are sobering. Food insecurity refers to the lack of access at certain times to enough food for an active, healthy life, due to lack of money and other resources. Lawrence County leads the area with 18.7 percent of its child population not having access to enough nutritious foods to fuel their bodies for proper growth and performance in school; Meade County comes in at 18.4 percent; and Butte County rounds out the group at 16 percent.

The Smiths are looking forward to their future with a brighter hue and hope that their struggle teaches their children important lessons of perseverance and hard work.

“We won’t always struggle like this; I have hopes for a better future,” said Sam. “In fact, Josh starts a new job this week, and I’m planning on going back to school to become a welder.”                                                                                                                   

“We’ll work hard to get on our feet so we can give our children a better life,” said Josh. “We want them to have the world and someday, the ability to give back.”  

Check out the next installment of this series in Thursday’s edition of the Black Hills Pioneer.

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