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Risk of child hunger grew most in suburbs during recession

lA new report points to the suburbs as the place in the state where the risk of child hunger grew the most during the recession.

“Childhood Hunger in America’s Suburbs,” released Aug. 7 by the Arizona Fair Share Education Fund, says there was about a 6 percent increase nationwide in the amount of children eligible for free and reduced school lunches. The increase was measured by comparing eligibility rates for the 2006-2007 and 2010-2011 school years. Nearly half of the newly eligible children live in the suburbs.

Arizona saw a 4.5 percent rise in the amount of eligible children, which is the 10th lowest increase in the country. In total, 47.2 percent of schoolchildren in the state were eligible during the 2010-2011 school year.

Kimberley Pope, state organizer for the Arizona Fair Share Education Fund, attributed the greater increase in assistance-eligible children in the suburbs to the recession.

“Lots of people lost their jobs,” she said. “And now they’re trying to struggle to get on their feet and during that struggle unfortunately things like food become more difficult as they’re trying to keep their house together and keep their jobs.”

Pope said 52 elected officials in Arizona have signed a pledge stating that they want to end child hunger in the state. One of the signers, Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, spoke at the press conference to announce the report.

“It is shameful that almost half of our kids are on free and reduced lunch in this state today,” said Alston, a former teacher. “I can tell you from my experience in the classroom that when children are hungry or not secure in their homes they are unable to learn.”

The report does not indicate how many children who were eligible for free or reduced lunches were able to take advantage of them.

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