Hunger advocates, corporate leaders, and governors today announced the national roll-out of a plan to end childhood hunger in the United States by 2015 by increasing access to nutrition education and to federal programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps) and the School Lunch and Breakfast programs. The plan, developed by Share Our Strength, was endorsed by several governors who have already committed to the effort, including Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, and outgoing Colorado Governor Bill Ritter.
"Nearly 17 million children in the United States don't have reliable access to the food they need to lead healthy, active lives," said actor and long-time hunger advocate Jeff Bridges in an address at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. "But our kids aren't hungry because we lack food or because of a lack of food and nutrition programs. They are hungry because they lack access to the nutritious food they need to grow and thrive." Bridges founded the End Hunger Network in 1983, which is now partnering with Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign to increase awareness of this critical issue.
Along with Share Our Strength, a national non-profit focused on ending childhood hunger in the U.S., Bridges announced the launch of a national No Kid Hungry Campaign aimed at creating public-private partnership that will close the gaps between existing food resources and the families who need them. Share Our Strength Executive Director Bill Shore said that comprehensive state anti-hunger strategies will be up and running in more than 15 states by the end of 2011, and the organization's goal is to have campaigns in all 50 states. Share Our Strength will launch the next No Kid Hungry partnerships in Greater New Orleans on November 12 and New Mexico on December 15.
According to Shore, last week's elections reinforce the need for food and nutrition programs, which enjoy bi-partisan support. As governors across the country grapple with significant fiscal challenges, strategies to increase enrollment are particularly attractive because they leverage existing federal dollars, providing an extraordinary return on investment.
"These No Kid Hungry Campaigns provide win-win solutions on every level," said Maryland Governor O'Malley, who in 2008 became the first governor to partner with Share Our Strength to end childhood hunger in his state. "Not only do our kids get the nutritious meals they need to compete on a level playing field, but every time we increase access to these meals, we increase the flow of already authorized and appropriated funds into our communities." Share Our Strength said states are leaving on the table more than a billion dollars that they could be drawing down to give kids access to healthy school breakfasts and summer meals.
"The elections affirmed the need for creative solutions to remove barriers that keep kids from the food they need to grow and learn," said Shore. "We anticipate enormous political pressure to cut the deficit rather than increase spending. Fortunately, our model for ending childhood hunger focuses not on increased federal spending, but on practical partnerships that advance nutrition education and increased participation in programs that have garnered bipartisan support for many years."
Nearly one in four children in the U.S. struggles with hunger, according to the USDA, yet on an average school day more than 10 million eligible children don't receive the free or reduced-price school breakfast for which they qualify. Similarly, less than 20 percent of the children who receive a free or reduced-price school lunch during the school year get fed through summer meal programs for which they are eligible.
Existing state No Kid Hungry partnerships to end hunger show strong results. Maryland's program helped connect 35,000 children with school breakfasts, after school and summer meals, and the supplemental food program between 2009 and 2010. The Campaign to End Childhood Hunger in Colorado increased summer meals by 26 percent in 2010. The Florida Partnership to End Childhood Hunger helped expand summer meal programs to all of the state's 67 counties, up from 38 counties in 2004.
"The framework that is already working in these states demonstrates what a little ingenuity can achieve even during a recession to increase the enrollment of our most vulnerable kids," said Shore. "The result is more effective public-private partnerships and families that are empowered to improve their quality of life."
The No Kid Hungry Campaign is also fueled by innovative partnerships with nearly two dozen major corporations, including the ConAgra Foods Foundation, the launch partner that provided critical start-up funding to develop campaign engagement tools like Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry Pledge, an effort to grow the community of people passionate about ending childhood hunger in America. Anyone can add their voice to the movement by taking the pledge at NoKidHungry.org. Food Network, Share Our Strength's national television partner, is asking its viewers to take the pledge through twice daily public service announcements, celebrity chef engagement and online promotion. As part of Walmart's commitment to Fight Hunger Together, Walmart is a leading funder of Share Our Strength's state and city strategies.
Many of America's other leading corporations are also supporting Share Our Strength's efforts to end childhood hunger in America through the No Kid Hungry Campaign: American Express, Birds Eye, C&S Wholesale Grocers, The Capital Grille, CGI, Corner Bakery Cafe, Domino Sugar and C&H Sugar, Family Circle, Hickory Farms, Jimmy Dean®, Joe's Crab Shack, The Land of Nod, Mission Foods, Ocean Spray, Sysco, Tastefully Simple, USA Today, Weight Watchers International, Inc., Whole Foods Market® and Williams-Sonoma. The American Federation of Teachers and National Basketball Association are also collaborating with Share Our Strength to increase awareness of the campaign.
Share Our Strength is a national organization working to make sure no kid in America grows up hungry. We weave together a net of community groups, activists and food programs to catch children at risk of hunger, and ensure they have nutritious food where they live, learn and play. For more information, please visit Strength.org.
Founded by actor Jeff Bridges in 1983, the End Hunger Network works with the entertainment community and other partners to create and support media projects, programs and events to raise awareness about the issue, to make ending U.S. child hunger a national priority, and to generate public and private action to support that goal.