The Secrets of Teen Hunger, and How We Can Help

Teen hunger is a hidden epidemic that plagues our community. With summer around the corner, here’s a look at the issue and the work we can do to make a difference.

The warm breezes are upon us and soon the school bell will ring for the last time to signal summer break — but that final bell for many students is also the last call before doors shut and hunger kicks in.

The Final Bell for Teen Hunger

There are 950 hungry students in the Petoskey and Harbor Springs school districts. During the 2023-24 school year, we are pleased to share that Northmen Den Youth Services reached nearly half (400) of the hungry kids this school year. But what will happen when school ends?

Last year we piloted our first run of offering summer school programming, and this year we’re hoping to do the same, though it will still be at a limited capacity compared to our school year pantry operations. All of the schools we serve have summer school for students who are behind academically.  Again this year we will be doing this for Petoskey.

A Hidden Epidemic

Across the country, millions of teens struggle with this hidden epidemic of hunger. An article published in Feeding America highlighted four hidden facts of this epidemic.

  1. Teen hunger is a problem. The number of teens facing hunger is unknown because national data doesn’t separate elementary children and teens.
  2. Teenagers feel responsible for putting food on the table. When their families can’t afford food, teens help. They’ll get jobs to add another paycheck to the family. They’ll skip meals so their younger siblings can eat. When jobs are hard to come by or don’t earn enough money, they make difficult choices like shoplifting food, eating unhealthy options, or dating in exchange for food or money.
  3. Hunger can hold teens back from reaching their full potential. Hunger affects concentration, energy, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. These side effects of hunger lead to kids falling behind in school. Teens who experience hunger are more likely to drop out of high school.
  4. Anti-hunger programs are letting teens down. When school pantry programs are available, teens might not participate because they’re embarrassed or worried about bullying from other students.”  (Source: – April 2021).

Nutrition Matters – A Partnership with Food Corps and Ground Works

We focus on healthier foods, with less salt, sugar or other additives and more fresh foods. In fact, we also launched a program this school year in partnership with Food Corps to educate our youth on creating easy yet nutritional meals. The Easy Peasy Recipes program provides students with a gifted griddle, and volunteers from Food Corps provide opportunities for students to learn simple recipes they can make using their new tools. Check out an example recipe below!

Another successful example of this program is our Alanson family dinner held on May 5. Food Corps showed families how to make pizzas on the griddles and then put them in an oven to cook the fresh veggies and melt the cheeser, which were sent home with attending families if they needed one. Check out our update about this on our Facebook page.

This event was so successful that we plan to include more family events in our 2024-25 school year. 

Providing Teens Proper Nutrition. You can help ensure local teens do not struggle with hunger this summer with a gift to our Youth Pantries. This gift supports our work to grow our summer programming and eventually reach all hungry children in our community.