Every day, 500,000 Oklahomans are at risk of going hungry, with children being one of the most vulnerable segments of the population. Children who live with hunger experience slower development physically and socially than their peers. They also have higher levels of irritability, anxiety, hyperactivity and aggression. Chronic hunger results in students with lower academic performance. Even relatively short-term deficiencies in nutrition can impact a child’s health, causing damage that prevents them from realizing their potential. Children make up nearly half of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s emergency food recipients on a weekly basis. The Made in Oklahoma Coalition, a group of 30 Oklahoma food manufacturers who promote local products, is working to change that. MIO member companies represent more than 25 towns and a variety of food industry sectors. Last year, MIO launched a paper towel product to help fight hunger in our state. A portion of proceeds from the sale of MIO paper towels goes to support the Food 4 Kids backpack program at the Regional Food Bank and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. The Food 4 Kids program started in January 2003 in response to hearing a firsthand account of an Oklahoma City elementary student who passed out on a Monday morning while waiting in the school lunch line, due to lack of food over the weekend. Food 4 Kids provides chronically hungry elementary school children with a backpack filled with nutritious, kid-friendly food on weekends and holidays throughout the school year. Since May 2009, the coalition has donated more than $36,000 from the sale of MIO paper towels and the Tastefully Oklahoma cookbook. As a result, more than 170 children have been added to the Food 4 Kids program. April is Made in Oklahoma month, and the coalition has set a goal to sell 1 million paper towel rolls by the end of the month to help support the food banks. Oklahomans can help be a part of something big by purchasing an item they buy regularly at the grocery store. Next Tuesday, the Made in Oklahoma Coalition and the regional food bank will be hosting an Eat Up event to raise additional funds for Food 4 Kids. The event is from 6-8 p.m. at the regional food bank’s volunteer center, 3355 S Purdue. I’ll be there, and I hope you will too. Rice, D-Oklahoma City, represents District 46 in the Oklahoma Senate. For more information about the Eat Up event, visit www.miocoalition.com.