Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bearing Witness to Deep Poverty and Inspirational Leaders in Arkansas


Some things are worth waiting for. Like the two days this week we spent in Arkansas.  It has been a high priority state for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. The National Commission on Hunger made it the site of its first field visit and second field hearing.

On the one hand the suffering of impoverished families across the state is palpable. 29% of the children live in poverty which puts Arkansas at 49th  worst in the nation. 40 percent of seniors are classified as food insecure.  In Pine Bluff, where the child poverty rate is 37% what passes for an after school rec center is a life saver for many teens but in dire need of renovation and resources.

We witnessed families lining up at fire stations and churches acting as makeshift food distribution centers for a once-a-month bag of food that will last no more than 3 days. The devastating loss of jobs in a changing economy, hunger, crime, and closing schools, are met by programs that barely keep up, let alone conquer the challenges.  

On the other hand, children and families across the state are benefitting from our No Kid Hungry campaign in ways so tangible, visible and measurable that you couldn’t miss it if you tried. At almost every site, and from the lips of every witness at the hearing held by the National Commission on Hunger – whether advocate or state cabinet official- were words of praise for Cooking Matters, our summer meals strategy, and our school breakfast work.  It was a day for pride in the service of each and every one of us at Share Our Strength.

 

At Martin Luther King elementary school we saw breakfast in the classroom in operation.  The efficient choreography of carts rolling down the halls, insulated bags and boxes being dropped off, and kids eating pancakes or cereal as they settled themselves for the day was state-of-the-art. 24 of 32 schools in Little Rock now offer breakfast after the bell.  

 

For me the takeaway from the trip is the need to resist the temptation to accept the unacceptable. Economic constraints and political division acclimate us to the notion that giving people just enough to get by is a reasonable standard. So we enable them to survive but certainly not thrive. Our political system aims interventions to hit somewhere above desperation but far below dignity. 

 

Thanks to our No Kid Hungry campaign, breakfast in the classroom, dedicated teachers, parents and administrators, and great local partners like the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, that won’t be the case for those kids at Martin Luther King elementary. After the pledge of allegiance, the students remained standing and recited this pledge too:

 

I pledge my loyalty to Dr. King’s dream by

Serving all humanity

To my school

To my teacher and by

Holding fast to my dreams

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Giving "sharing strength" a whole new meaning via Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry


            A three course dinner has always been more my speed than a three day bike ride, but we’re giving “sharing strength” a whole new meaning with our first 300 mile bike ride called Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry. I’m neither a chef, nor within 20 years of the majority of the other riders, but I’m hoping that either pride or pity will lead you to support my ride which will helps us feed hundreds of thousands of American children. Join me @ http://join.nokidhungry.org/site/TR/Events/DD_Pers_Fund_13?px=3108579&pg=personal&fr_id=1300

 

            In June, I’ll be riding 300 miles over three days, from Santa Barbara to San Diego (which on the map at least looks all downhill). Your support – large or small – will help take my mind off of the following concerns:

 

§  The combined age of my knees is 120 years old, a fact that is physiologically not relevant but mentally devastating (you’ll know what I mean someday)

 

§  Proper cycling shorts are not a luxury but a necessity unless you plan to stand at dinner while the rest of your friends and family sit and eat.

 

§  Instead of my conditioning peaking on the week of May 25, 2015 per the Endorphin Fitness training manual we are using, it will have peaked sometime during May of 1995.

 

Thanks for helping Share Our Strength create yet another vehicle for generating the resources necessary for ending childhood hunger in America. With 46 million Americans living below the poverty line, the needs of our nation’s children are greater than ever – and having a great impact on our schools, our health care system, and ultimately our economic competitiveness. 

 

One of our challenges here is to design new opportunities through which people can share their strength. I know that if we succeed we’ll inspire even more people than ever to get involved. So my pitch is “If I can do it, anyone can!” 

 

Again, a link to my donation page can be found @ http://join.nokidhungry.org/site/TR/Events/DD_Pers_Fund_13?px=3108579&pg=personal&fr_id=1300, and a link to some of your favorite chefs is @ http://www.chefscycle.org/ Thanks for considering getting behind our effort.

 

Billy

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Knees the combined age of 120 and other things I worry about while training for Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry


              Picasso said “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”  I’ve got the solitude part nailed.  Many Chefs Cycle riders organize group rides but I’m in a different city every day and my only window is 4:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. So it’s just me and the birds to break the silence. (I like to think the birds are singing not laughing.)  Besides I doubt I would be able to keep up with the group.

            The constant travel means I have to keep renting bikes and searching out new bike paths.  Here are the top five things I worry about as I go:

-          The combined age of my knees is 120 years old, a fact that is physiologically not relevant but mentally devastating (you’ll know what I mean someday)

 

-          That I won’t be able to find a Dunkin Donuts, Corner Bakery, or Arby’s when I need one (something that also differentiates me from my more fit riding colleagues)

 

-          That I will accidentally use some of the choice words I use when I am struggling on a steep climb, when struggling to get Nate to behave.

 

-          That while I’m celebrating finishing a 40 mile training ride, Allen Ng, Jason Roberts, Sara Polon and Mary Sue Milliken are celebrating an 80 mile training ride.

 

-          That instead of my conditioning peaking on the week of May 25, 2015 per the Endorphin Fitness training manual, it will have peaked sometime during May of 1995.

A big part of ending childhood hunger is overcoming fear of failure. That’s also a key ingredient for completing this ride.  As is finding more ways for more people to share their strength. I’m in awe of and inspired by my fellow riders who are doing just that.  As you’ll see from the Chefs Cycle website (http://www.chefscycle.org/)  this turning into serious money for our No Kid Hungry campaign

Confidence building donations on my personal fundraising page are much appreciated and enable us to feed thousands of additional kids. @  http://join.nokidhungry.org/site/TR/Events/DD_Pers_Fund_13?px=3108579&pg=personal&fr_id=1300

Friday, April 24, 2015

Excerpt from my ride journal, #2 (for Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry)


            Since I know little about cycling and even less about training, I take as gospel every word that comes out of Jason Roberts’ mouth. During our recent No Kid Hungry summit he said “don’t worry, just put some miles on the bike every day and you’ll be fine.”  So that’s what I’ve been trying to do, even while Roe and Nate and I are on our annual trip to Turks and Caicos during Nate’s spring break.

            It’s not easy to rack up 30 miles a day on an island (Parrot Cay) that is only 3 miles long. At least not without getting dizzy.  The only bikes here are Gravity EZ Cruz, with one gear and tires as wide as a Volkswagen’s.  The chain is so rusted I wanted to give the bike a tetanus shot. The average temperature here is 88 degrees.

 An island vacation is certainly no hardship.  But there is a sense that if I can ride in these conditions I can ride in any. I’ll keep doing what Jason advises. With less than 8 weeks to go, every mile counts. So does every donation. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

letter from my ride journal for Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry, training day #1


             Ok, this is going to be harder than I thought. Last week I began to train for the upcoming Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry, ( @ http://chefscycle.org/ )  I started  by consulting the training guide prepared by our friends at Endorphin Fitness. That was my first mistake. The week of April 13 was labeled week 6 for training purposes.

 On Saturday I took my first ride of the season outside of the gym. 28 miles on the Capital Crescent Trail that follows the Potomac River.  The first half felt great, I was really soaring, and I thought “Jason Roberts look out!”  What I didn’t know until I turned around at the 14 mile mark was that I’d had the wind at my back.   

            I learned some important things during the ride:

-          When a passing rider yells “on your left” it can be shorthand for “I’m passing so fast and close there will be no skin on your left arm and leg after I’ve gone by.”

 

-          Proper cycling shorts are not a luxury but a necessity unless you plan to stand at dinner while the rest of your friends and family sit and eat.

 

-          28 miles down means 272 more to go to complete the Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry 300 mile ride. The math is unassailable. The common sense of it is more questionable.

            Despite all of the lessons being learned the hard way and growing reservations about what I’ve got myself into, my experience tells me that Sharing strength is always the right thing to try. So getting back out there this weekend.   More riders still welcome!

Support of all kinds welcome, especially @ ow.ly/LLscm

Billy

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tom Vilsack and Cesar Chavez, bearing witness across half a century


            Last week USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack led a ceremony to name a courtyard at USDA for Cesar Chavez. Vilsack explained that it was the 50th anniversary of a United Farm Worker hunger strike Chavez led “to bring justice and equality to the people who feed America.”

            The organizing efforts of Cesar Chavez, his grape boycotts and hunger strikes, were a way of forcing the country to bear witness to the injustices suffered by migrant farm workers. Today his legacy stands as an amazing testament to one man’s ability to make a nation pay attention to what was otherwise invisible to most of us.

Secretary Vilsack’s action 50 years later, could be mistaken for a small symbolic gesture but it actually represents a historic milestone. On Sunday night Vilsack told me: “It is hard to believe but until this administration no representative from the United Farm Workers Union ever felt welcomed or set foot in the USDA headquarters. It was long, long overdue.” 

Since Vilsack became Secretary, the USDA has invested more than $200 million in affordable housing for farmworkers. From his first day in office he has championed the vulnerable and voiceless.  A few months into his term he told of how during his job “interview” with President Obama, the president said he knew that there were numerous responsibilities at USDA but the number one thing he wanted him to do was make sure children get fed. Just last month we met with him at his office to talk strategies for protecting SNAP and Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

During the event last week it was as if Vilsack was taking a page from Cesar Chavez’s own playbook and continuing in the tradition Chavez established – acting to bear witness, putting others in a position to do so, insisting that we have a duty to see, remember, and give voice.