Children hungry in Cayman schools

Almost one in four children in the public school system needed financial assistance to buy lunches last year. 

Charity leaders say the statistic shows the scale of the issue the Cayman Islands is facing with child hunger. They say the figures only show part of the problem, with many teachers still digging into their own pockets to buy lunch for needy kids. 

But education officials and some charities warn the problem is compounded by parents who have their priorities wrong and spend money on expensive cars and beauty treatments while their children go hungry. 

The number of pupils getting support for school lunches has risen from 630 in 2009 to a record 967 in the last calendar year, according to figures released by the Department of Children and Family Services. 

A further 157 children have received financial support for meals from the charity Feed Our Future, while the Kiwanis’ “Buy a Kid Breakfast” scheme provides additional support for youngsters in need. 

There were 4,890 schoolchildren enrolled in the public school system for 2011/2012, meaning almost a quarter of pupils are receiving some form of assistance for meals. 

Stacey VanDevelde, chairwoman of Feed Our Future, said the charity had seen a spike in demand in recent years. 

“A lot of families are struggling, particularly those that work in lower skilled jobs. If they have quite a few children and perhaps the father is not around, it becomes very difficult,” she said. “For some children, the only proper meal they are getting is the meal they get at school.” 

Michael Myles, the department of education’s liaison officer for at-risk youth, said there was a greater need for lunch provision. He said hunger was a prime cause of learning difficulties and anti-social behaviour, including bullying and theft.  

But he warned against creating a dependency culture where parents believed feeding children was the responsibility of government. 

“This service must empower our people to assume responsibility for their children, not remove it.” 

Mr. Myles said educators were prepared to do whatever it took to ensure children were fed because they knew the difference it made to their performance in school. He acknowledged that government needed to do more to weed out those who were exploiting the system and put the onus back on parents. 

“I have worked with families who receive this service but have an expensive car, cable television, Internet access and several cell phones,” he said. “If you can afford any of these items you do not need help with school lunches.” 

Paul de Freitas, who started the breakfast programme for Kiwanis five years ago, said many families were genuinely in need of help, but others made bad choices.  

“Part of the issue is about priorities,” he said. “There is poverty in the Cayman Islands, nobody in their right mind would claim there is not, but at the same time there are a significant number of children whose parents have money for manicures and nail treatments but not for their children’s food. It is pretty disgusting. 

“There are other parents who drop their kids at the gas station and pick up a coke and a chocolate bar and call that breakfast.” 

He said studies had shown the link between hunger and anti-social behaviour in schools.  

He said Kiwanis was doing what it could through regular collections to give schools money to provide breakfasts to youngsters. 

Head teacher of George Town Primary Marie Martin said the school was grateful for the money it received. She added that the need was great and that teachers were still using their own money to provide food for some children. 

“The charities provide much needed and much appreciated assistance in addition to what government offers,” she said. “There are a lot of children in genuine need.” 

The Department of Child and Family Services provides a $6-a-day allowance to qualifying children in the public school system for breakfast or lunch. The numbers, recorded for a calendar year rather than the academic year, have risen steadily over the past few years.  

Aside from a spike in demand in 2008, the statistics had hovered around the 650-mark until 2009 when take-up started increasing dramatically. Last year’s total of 967 was the highest recorded. There have already been 501 students who received money for school lunches in 2013 so far, with the number expected to be much higher by December. 

Jen Alicia Dixon, director of DCFS, said families seeking assistance typically indicated inadequate income, unpaid child maintenance or unemployment as the reason for needing 
help. She added that many were from single parent homes. 

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Stacey VanDevelde of Feed Our Future makes a presentation to staff at Savannah Primary School in 2012. – PHOTO: Submitted
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24 COMMENTS

  1. It is very sad to see that almost one in four children in the public school system needed financial assistance to buy lunches last year.

    I understand that individuals and families can fall on hard times and don’t have a problem with the government providing assistance to help anyone get back on their feet. However, what we have in Cayman, for the most part, is a culture of dependency where people feel that it is the responsibility of the government to take care of their child/children. This is the reason why some people don’t have a problem spending money on things like manicures and nail treatments instead of providing the basic necessities for their child/children.

    This is nothing short of child abuse and The Department of Child and Family Services should investigate and make recommendations to prosecute any parents that spend money on things like expensive cars and beauty treatments while there children go hungry.

    Another major issue that we have in Cayman are the number of single parent homes. These single parent homes are mostly the result of poor decision making and we need to stop treating these single parents like they are victims. For the most part these single parents are losers that are not able to exercise sound judgement when making critical life decisions. Single parent homes are a plague on our society as they often are the homes that need the most assistance because of the poor choices made by adults.

    While I understand that we have a significant problem with paternity fraud in the Cayman Islands, I can’t understand how any man could see their presumptive child/children in need and not do everything possible to either rectify the situation or seek a final determination as to their responsibility for the child/children.

    Children are not the responsibility of the government and the government must send a clear message that children are first and foremost the responsibility of their parents and that this disgusting behavior must stop immediately.

    This madness needs to stop now.

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  2. Now please do not get me wrong, and I would like you to read my comments carefully before you thumbs down or up.
    I try to split justice. Just a few days ago we were hands up because the Churches had received large sums of money; and I agree also in the church being assisted, but I have one question for the Churches, although I support them. WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO FEED THE CHILDREN?
    Please answer that question.
    WHAT ARE CHURCHES DOING WITH THEIR COLLECTION, AND MONEYS DONATED TO THEM.
    In George Town there are Churches of all denominations with congregations of close to 800 people. BIG CHURCHES. Check their congregation, all of them and see how many are Caymanians? Maybe about 100. Well what are they doing to assist the children who are hungry in schools? They maintain a full office staff who are not Caymanians and these staff including the Pastors are paid very well. Besides these staff members are also holding a full time job.
    I do not blame a dam soul but the Government and Immigration Department for allowing these churches to operate without permission to do so. They are fleecing this country. You have to visit these churches for some time and really get to know what is going on. HIGH WAY ROBBERY that is what, and the nerve of them want the few happy sinners in the bars and on the road to join them. NO. I am blasting them today because they are doing nothing to help. These Big churches, each one of them should sponsor a school. Like what I say or do not like what I say, no problem.
    The social service department. Now let me get on their case. Yes, I agree with some comments they are definitely helping too many young people who can work. These young people abuse the system because the social Department pays their rent, food, electricity and water for them. 75% of them are not Caymanians. I had the opportunity to speak with a man a few weeks ago. Making the mistake of saying are you not ashamed to ask our Social Service Department to be paying your rent when you are not even a Caymanian. The young man replied to me THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE THERE FOR. Well really, I thought, just serves them right. WHY ARE SOCIAL SERVICE HELPING THESE YOUNG PEOPLE. I only support the social service department assisting the elderly. Those are the persons who built Cayman, and how many years do they have left on this earth. Think about it.
    I had the opportunity to watch some students eat food the other day, and they were literally eating like it was their last meal, even licking out the plate. I thought to myself these children look like they have never ate a thing in a week. WHAT IS GOING ON CAYMAN. However it is true what MIchael Miles say. There are parents who is getting their hair done, nails and toes done, new clothes, new car and partying every week end while they do not buy a Beef Pattie for their children. Not good enough.
    If the government should take up the extra slack in feeding some of the children, I suggest they monitor the parents carefully first. If they are going to assist the children with feeding them, my suggestion is to stop giving the parents food vouchers. Put the money towards that child school canteen. Make arrangements with the canteen that the children are fed three times for the day. First thing in the morning they are given a good breakfast, bread eggs, juice, tea and a protein. That will hold them until lunch time. At lunch time give them a good lunch meat, chicken rice and veg. That will keep them until 2.30 when school is out. Feed them again at 2.30 That is supper, what ever they want to give them, chicken and chips, hamburger, pizza or what ever they chose which will keep them full for the night. Do this every day for the needy children, and let the parents feed them Saturday and Sunday.
    THE CHURCHES AND SOCIAL CLUBS, where are you on this. You should have that canteen full with food TO FEED THESE CHILDREN.
    Please publish my comments under Our Readers Write.

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  3. Kudos to Mr. Myles and Mr. de Freitas for recognizing the fact and voicing it that much of the problem has to do with poor decision-making and prioritizing on the part of the parent or parents.

    While I do understand that there are some parents that ARE working hard and doing without luxaries (and yes! They are luxaries, not necessities!) such as fancy cell phones, expensive cars, cable TV, giant televisions, alcohol, cigarettes, manicures, expensive clothing etc, and their children are still hungry. And yes, these are the kids the charities such as Buy a Kid Breakfast and Feed our Future should be helping.

    But let’s face it, the majority of parents are not doing without these luxaries. They seem to think they can live the good life when they have only a low-income job and feel it is the responsibility of the government to feed their kids. That is absurd and irresponsible.

    Instead of pouring thousands of dollars into feeding the children of deadbeat parents, why do we not instead offer courses to parents such as family planning, financial planning, budgeting, how to make good choiches for one’s family etc? Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.

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  4. @ Hunter

    As usual you are one sandwich shy of a picnic.

    Are you saying that expats are the problem again. You say 800 in a congregation and 100 are Caymanian. So its the responsibility of the 700 non Caymanians to feed the children. Its getting tougher day by day to listen to your rhetoric.

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  5. Having kids go to school hungry is terrible, but it is nothing new to these islands.. Lets be real, many times you were glad to have a piece of John cake and a few fried sprats in that lunch pan. There have always been poor people in Cayman scraping day to day to get along. Yes there are some terrible parents out there who cram a family of five in a one bedroom apartment and have their fancy car with maxed out add-on outside. But there are also those that see cutting the food bill as a last resort to maintaining a roof over their kids head. Government, do a record request and see how many of your citizens are living without electricity.

    Imagine a mother of two with a police record with her only means of income a stipend from social services. She cannot get a job because of her record and she is on the last month of a three month agreed support package.. Do anyone, really believe, that some one really wants to live like that..

    Those who say that these Caymanians have voluntary evolved to a state government dependency are coo-coo..

    A country with an economy which has to import 50% of it labor force, and has 10% unemployment, have planners who are coo-coo..

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  6. I said it before and will say it again: this charity is just wrong and embarrassing for a country such as Cayman Islands with a high GDP per capita. While intentions are honorable, but here is a sayinga road to hell is paved by good intentions.
    This whole hungry children thing raises many questions:How was it determined who is hungry? What constitutes being hungry? Refusing to eat vegetables and wanting potato chips is being hungry? Having no money to buy lunch constitutes being hungry? What if a child throws away mom’s prepared lunch because a child doesn’t like what in it- he/she will be hungry? Who and how conducted research and what is their qualification? No mother, single or not would let her child go hungry. There are grandmas and grandpas around who also would not allow their grand kids to go hungry. So the whole screaming plea Feed our future is questionable. I did not see any children with bloated bellies, but a lot of them have the latest communication gadgets.

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  7. Food for tought from the richest country on the planet.

    Have you ever wondered why schools offer a school lunch program or when and why the school lunch program was created? Read this article for more information on the history of the school lunch program. You may be surprised.

    President Harry S. Truman began the national school lunch program in 1946 as a measure of national security. He did so after reading a study that revealed many young men had been rejected from the World War II draft due to medical conditions caused by childhood malnutrition. Since that time more than 180 million lunches have been served to American children who attend either a public school or a non-profit private school.

    In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson extended the program by offering breakfast to school children. It began as a two years pilot program for children in rural areas and those living in poorer neighborhoods. It was believed that these children would have to skip breakfast in order to catch the bus for the long ride to school. There were also concerns that the poorer families could not always afford to feed their children breakfast. Johnson believed, like many of us today, that children would do better in school if they had a good breakfast to start their day. The pilot was such a success that it was decided the program should continue. By 1975, breakfast was being offered to all children in public or non-profit private school. This change was made because educators felt that more children were skipping breakfast due to both parent being in the workforce.

    In 1968, a summer meals program was offered to low income children. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks are still available to students each year, during the summer break. Any child in need can apply for the program at the end of the school year. Parents that are interested in the summer meals program should contact their local school administration.

    Since its inception, the school lunch/meals programs have become available in more than 98,800 schools. The 2004/05 school year reported that over 9.2 million children participated in the breakfast and lunch programs; and as many as 1.6 million children took advantage of the summer meals program that same year.

    Although the programs started as a something for children from lower income families, they are now offered to all children. Some families will have the meals provided to them either for free or at a reduced rate, depending on the family’s income. However, the program is a really good deal for all parents who have children attending a public or non-profit private school. During the 2004/05 school year, child of a moderate to higher income family would spend on average 1.50 for a lunch or breakfast ticket each day.

    For more information on the nutritional requirements of the Federal School Lunch and Breakfast Programs visit fns.usda.gov/cnd/

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  8. I do not believe this story! Cayman is the only Caribbean country I have visited that have so much food at any given event! Foster and Kirk Supermarkets! There is this wholesale place near Foster that you can get a big bottle of peanut for 9. There is an influx of American goods and they are pretty reasonable! However, the article could be right about parents having the wrong priority! People in Cayman drives very nice vehicle

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  9. Hunter is my least favourite blogger becuz of the xenophobia that person exert especally the anti-Jamaican mentality but today I have to agree with the comments on this blog re: Church! The Church could offer some assistance there. I do know of the George Town SDA Church that offers assistance to poor people in Cayman. The persons who cook the meals are Jamaican native! — The nationality Hunter hates most!

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  10. The problem has to be properly identified based on objective criteria. Criteria itself have to be properly identified. Only then the best solution can be sought. I am sure the number of children who are chronically go hungry won’t be too high.
    Giving money, canned, packaged and processed food is not the right solution. Feeding those children with a REAL fresh cooked nutritious meal could be one of the solutions.
    Don’t forget about the dignity of older children who might go hungry but would not admit it in front of their classmates.
    Cayman Islands can afford to offer to all its children free nutritious meals at school, lunch or breakfast, if they just manage money properly. By doing so they can also teach children from the early age, what real food is, vs. food product. Having a green nursery in every school is another great solution.
    RE: Hunter: there is no right or wrong, just your own opinion, based on your own beliefs. And this is not a popularity contest. People show some class.

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  11. LB to surprise you, you do not know how wrong you are suggesting that I am against Jamaicans. Have you travelled anywhere else beside Cayman? If you have I would suggest you question what ever country you travelled to why they are deporting Jamaicans and throwing them off roof tops. However I would like you to show me once where I have said that I hate Jamaicans. I am really laughing to think if you would know where I am really from. If I was you I would think carefully before putting your mouth in gear. You do not know anything, and for your info. it is Jamaicans fighting against Jamaicans here, and it is called I do not want you making anymore money than me. Certainly I do believe it is your conscience bothering you about the truth of my comments, which any intelligent person can read and know the facts.
    Fair and balance I do not want your agreement about what I say today, because obviously you are only nit picking because a certain part of my comment suit you perfectly; How dare you to pick my comments to suit your whims and wants.
    I split justice just in case you have not noticed; and for your information I know what go on in Cayman Islands, that is why I can comment on most things.

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  12. Some of you talk like you were never hungry before, or know what it is to be hungry. A child doesn’t need to have a bloated belly to be hungry. If I am stop by an adult in George Town requesting money from me to buy him or her food, why should I right away surmise that this person is going to use my money for this and for that. Why would I start thinking up whole lot of what ifs. Put yourself in that persons shoes – would you want someone to refuse you food and drink when you feel you have a dire need of it and no money to buy it? Of course not. The best thing someone could do for me after begging them money for food on the street, is go to a nearby store and buy me the nourishment my body needs. Some of you commenters address this whole issue from a distance – there is no humanitarian it seems in you. Children are hungry. It is so easy to feed children. Why such a big fuss? Do you have children? Then why are you so quick to surmise that it must be their fault or their parents fault that they are hungry. This is an economic situation that plagues many countries and not merely one or two people are to blame for it. Have a heart.

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  13. Hunter, it was not me. I said to Bubba (and others who do not like you) to leave you alone and use tact, as everyone has right to express his or her opinion.

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  14. Apology to you LB if comments were miss understood, and As far as Bubba is concerned, I read somewhere that it is useless arguing with an angry person, that person does not know the daylight from the darkness, and it is very obvious by their stupid comments, I really couldn’t care less who likes me, because I am not an angry man with an Itch to scratch.

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  15. I can see how this article can be twist to advocate government regulation of all school lunches. Children can eat what they want to eat. It’s not our government’s job to determine what is nutritious for a kid and what isnt – it’s the parent’s. Parents need to be more aware of what their kids are eating in school, not the government.

    We may have a starving children, but that is no license to have government control over feeding our children. I hope we dont go there, because I am one Caymanian who will oppose it.

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  16. Major religious doctrines embrace the concept of supporting the underprivileged. No child should go hungry if resources are available. Christianity follows the teachings of Jesus. He called the young children to come to Him for safety and for comfort. Cayman holds out that it is a Christian nation.

    Society (and community) needs to address its weaknesses: Fathers who take no responsibility for their offspring and Mothers who become such without commitment and without the resources needed to care for their young. These parents need to be educated and awakened to the impact their actions have on the lives of others and themselves. Many will never change. Embedded in their souls is resistance to anything other than self gratification.

    The Church and the State must work together to address this problem. Humans will present errors in judgement and weaknesses. The community and the Church must be there to support, encourage, to educate and to redirect those who fail. Their children are victims. The community needs to break the cycle. Feed, educate, care, and respect. Not because these offspring are a burden, but because the heart and soul of the parents are misdirected.

    Then there are those who through circumstance find themselves vulnerable and not in a favored place. Not every parent who sends a hungry child to school is out partying or living in self gratification. There are moms, and dads, who are victims too. Society is quick to judge. The Christian community should not. It should step in and help all, let those moms and dads actions and motives be judged by Someone else.

    Cayman holds itself out to be a Christian country. Cayman should present a community that is charitable beyond all others. If Christ is the center of this community, Cayman should be a global benchmark of social reform and for support for those in need and in display of compassion for all.

    Non-Christian countries should stand back and wonder what has this country got that they dont.

    Feed the children. Set the pace.

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  17. Hunter needs to be respectful in his/her message! For your information majority of Jamaicans who are deported is because they over stayed there time! They are working hard in these country to make a living. There is no secret that the economic situation in Jamaica is bad and many leave Jamaica to get a better job. Therefore, do not let it appears that Jamaicans being deported because of crime. Knowing Jamaicans well nobody cannot throw them off any rood top! Jamaicans are fighters. Look at the world stage there music, n sports in academic! All area of life Jamaicans have done extremely well and that is what I admire about this group of people. If I should give up my British nationality any day it is to be a Jamaican! Those people just dont give up! They are aggressive to what they want.

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  18. My comments yesterday were honest, because I know what I was talking about, and obviously you do not or you have a very big pot cover..
    Today I say to Fairandbalance,Bubba, and all the others who thought I hate Jamaicans. You are still so wrong. Today Fairandbalance, and Bubba, I suggest you make some comments on todays Headlines concerning the Rolex robbery ring. Do you still think I hate Jamaicans or will you use your big pot cover again.

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  19. Today I had met a group of older americans who were retired . They had one lady who had a jamaican accent who was interested to see why we were successful in having lower crime. She told me they had to finally leave their homeland because of crime. She was a teacher. She went to live in the 80’s when she went she had to take courses and study to QUALIFY to be a US certified school teacher. She had a degree from her college but it wasn’t good enough. She felt better after completing the course . She knew she achieved a higher education.
    I told her crime has been creeping in and slowly upsetting our society.
    People really need to know why.
    It would be interesting to find how many people who are getting money from social services , where are they from? What district they live in? do their children go to public schools or parochial schools? I’m pretty sure the dept of family and social services could tell us in a minute. But living in the caribbean has many of life’s challenges. Music, religion, drugs, education its not the same. She felt that education was the problem in jamaica. She felt education was the problem coming to Cayman also.
    Do we need to have a referendum to know that children need to eat? I say we get the money back from the nation building and put in a proper program to feed all children in cayman. Then allow parents to contribute so much per month per child.
    I believe that parents are lazy, irresponsible and don’t have their priorities in order. How can you not get up in the morning and make an egg per child in the morning? How much does a dozen of eggs cost? a loaf of bread, cereal,tea, one gallon of milk per week. Pure hog@#%. You all have no excuse. If you are that poor you shouldn’t have children you should adopt them out for their own safety.

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