Thursday, April 21, 2016

Lesson from Chefs Cycle: Capable of More than We Think We Are


One of the most important things I’ve learned over 30 years at Share Our Strength came during last year’s 3 day, 300 mile Chefs Cycle bike ride from Santa Barbara to San Diego: we are all capable of more than we think we are. That’s how and why we completed the arduous ride, and that’s how and why we will achieve No Kid Hungry.

            Eventually age and common sense will prevail on me to not attempt riding 300 miles with much younger and fitter cyclists. But for now I still have a few rides left in me and along with nearly 150 other riders will spend the next ten weeks training to ensure we keep our commitment.

I hope you will support this year’s ride from Carmel to Santa Barbara. We will raise more than $1 million for our No Kid Hungry campaign, enough to add hundreds of thousands of America’s most vulnerable children to school breakfast and summer meals programs. My ride page can be found @ donate here. And if you want to see or support other riders, go to @ http://www.chefscycle.org/  Thanks for considering, and for any contribution you can make.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

"No Great Cause is Ever Lost or Ever Won. The Battle Must Be Renewed and The Creed Restated" 28 Years of Taste of the Nation


Last night was Share Our Strength’s annual Taste of the Nation event at the National Building Museum.  It was the 28th year we’ve held the event and it included chef Roberto Donna who was at our first event and Bryan Voltaggio who has been deeply engaged with us for the past 5 years, as well as dozens of other talented chefs and restaurateurs. 

 

I’ve attended all but two or three of the past 28 years, not to mention events in nearly one hundred other cities.  While they have grown and changed in numerous ways, the fundamental principal remains the same: those who make a living from feeding people have a special connection to the issue of hunger and want to literally share their strength to make a difference in the community where they work and live.

Over three decades the commitment of the culinary community to ending hunger has been nothing short of extraordinary, probably exceeding the unity, generosity and commitment of any other industry when it comes to addressing a social problem.  The return on that investment has been equally impressive: millions of children added to the school breakfast program, thousands more summer meals sites around the nation, and building the capacity of a highly sophisticated emergency food assistance network of food banks.

 

Many of us remarked last night on the passage of time. Restaurants that had opened and closed.  Friends who’d moved away or died.  Some of our children now had children of their own.  It’s what you would expect over nearly three decades.  

But what has remained, and what time won’t diminish or extinguish, is the conviction that we each have a role to play in making the world a little better for the next generation, and that the passage of time make that conviction more true not less. As the writer John Buchan put it: “No great cause is ever lost or ever won. The battle must always be renewed and the creed restated … some things are universal, catholic and undying. These do no age or pass out of fashion, for they symbolize eternal things. They are the guardians of the freedom of the human spirit, the proof of what our mortal frailty can achieve.”

Monday, April 4, 2016

Intersection of Poverty and Place Matters, and Creates New Challenges


A new report from the Brookings Institution gives policy makers and nonprofit leaders working for social change reason to rethink strategy in favor of more comprehensive approaches. The report shows that although the Great recession ended in 2009, the number of people below the poverty line remains stuck at pre-recession record levels.  http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports2/2016/03/31-concentrated-poverty-recession-kneebone-holmes  

Also, the concentration of poverty has increased with millions more American living in even more challenging circumstances than before. According to the report: “By 2010-14, 14 million people lived in extremely poor neighborhoods—5.2 million more than before the downturn and more than twice as many as in 2000….More than half of all poor residents in the United States now live in high poverty or extremely poor neighborhoods.”

If you care about education, health care, pre-K, hunger, nutrition, crime, or a number of other issues, this new level of concentrated poverty impacts your efforts and makes your work even harder.  If you are working on any of those issues and not working on the underlying issue of poverty that often shapes them, you may be failing to reach far enough upstream. 

Living in neighborhoods of concentrated povertry imposes additional challenges for families seeking to pull themselves into better circumstances. Concentrated poverty has negative impacts on crime, drop-out rates and the duration of poverty. Such communities often have less access to social services, after school enrichment programs, mentors and safe spaces.

This is a demographic shift to which we have not yet adjusted.  The report argues that “Not only has public perception lagged behind the changing landscape of poverty, the traditional policy and practice playbook that has evolved over decades to address poverty in place has also failed to keep up with the larger scale and more diverse geography of need that exists today.”

This raises at least three major questions for policymakers, nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs and advocates:

-          Must some part of our work be focused not just on the symptoms of poverty but on its root causes?

 

-          Should our efforts be more targeted and concentrated to match the concentration of poverty?

 

-          Are their deeper collaborations and coordination with other organizations and leaders necessary as a result of this new data?

As the Brookings authors assert, “The intersection between poverty and place matters.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Potential for severe harm from House budget for the most vulnerable and voiceless


            Given how raucous the 2016 presidential campaign has been so far it’s easy to take one’s eye off the ball.  But if you pay attention to what’s going on inside the nation’ capital, it’s arguably a lot more extreme than anything any of the candidates who aspire to govern here have proposed.

            According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the House budget takes 62% of its cuts, “an unprecedented amount” from programs for low and moderate income families and individuals.  SNAP (food stamps) would be cut by $125 billion between 2021 and 2016 ending food assistance for millions of low income families.  It’s budget proposal inconsistent with the House leadership’s pledge to make poverty reduction a priority.  And with the need for food assistance remaining at near record levels, it would make childhood hunger even worse, as well as its negative consequences for the health, education and economic competitiveness of our next generation.

Lest you think the extremists are principally those running for office, many of them are already in office. The damage their policies would do to the most vulnerable and voiceless is severe. They are an easy target because they are children, elderly, or too poor to make PAC contributions or hire lobbyists on their own behalf.

This gets insufficient attention in the mainstream media so easily distracted by candidates slinging mud, (not only at each other but at each other’s wives). That’s all the more reason why nonprofits, philanthropists and advocacy organizations who fight for those so unrepresented must make their voices heard in our national conversation about the future of the nation.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Nonprofit sector must compensate for candidate and media failure to make child poverty an issue


           In the midst of extensive handwringing on the part of the mainstream media about their complicity in the rise of Donald Trump, NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff had one of the more thoughtful pieces yesterday acknowledging how out of touch the media is with the pain of working class Americans. http://tinyurl.com/h5aodbt

            He wrote: “We failed to take Trump seriously because of a third media failing: We were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much his message resonated. ‘The media has been out of touch with these Americans,’ (former Today anchor Ann) Curry notes. Media elites rightly talk about our insufficient racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but we also lack economic diversity. We inhabit a middle-class world and don’t adequately cover the part of America that is struggling and seething. We spend too much time talking to senators, not enough to the jobless.”

            If the media are out of touch with working class Americans, just imagine how much farther out of touch they are with the poorest of the poor, now a sizeable number in our country those who are most vulnerable and voiceless. 11% of American children are living in deep poverty.  45 million Americans have been stuck below the poverty line for three years in a row.  51% of our public school students now live in poverty.   Neither the press not the candidates give voice to these issues with any consistency, if at all.  Why? Probably for the same honest reason that Kristof gives for such excessive coverage of Trump. Ratings. Follow the dollar.

            One again we see how those who are the most economically and politically marginalized have no markets to serve them, whether economic, political or media markets. This places even more of an obligation on nonprofits, advocates and philanthropy to do what is most important for them to do: be the voice for those whose voices are not being heard but desperately need to be. Many of them are children; they represent and will shape our collective future.  We need to compensate for the failure of the candidates and the media to make child poverty the issue it should be.

As the author James Baldwin so eloquently wrote:  “Remember, they are all our children and we shall either pay for or profit by whatever they become.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"A Child Who Is Hungry Cannot Be Hungry For Knowledge"


     “A child who is hungry cannot be hungry for knowledge”, said Virginia’s First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe to open Share Our Strength’s board of director’s meeting yesterday.  She spoke of “proof of how school breakfast is improving academic performance”, asserted that “food is as important as books, laptops and teachers”, and said “we intend to eliminate childhood hunger in Virginia, there’s just no other way to say it.”

            It was an inspiring start to a board meeting that reaffirmed our commitment to achieving our ambitious No Kid Hungry goals.  First Lady McAuliffe described the incredible commitment that the Governor’s office has made and they capacity they’ve built and most important of all, the results: more than 20,000 additional students receiving breakfast over the previous year.

            “This is an economic issue,” concluded the First Lady, “Creating a workforce pipeline means we must have children who are well educated. And a good education  system attracts businesses to our state.” 

            The Republican controlled state legislature agreed with her, doubling the amount of state funding available, to $2 million, to enact breakfast-after-the-bell alternatives so that all kids start their school day with a healthy meal. See @ http://www.nbc29.com/story/31539830/lawmakers-approve-increased-funding-for-va-school-nutrition-programs

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Gambling That We Can End Childhood Hunger in Las Vegas


            In the casinos of Las Vegas, there’s much to gawk at and reminders everywhere that you are being watched closely as well.  Every casino has “eye-in-the-sky” technology, more per square foot than anywhere in the U.S.  Plastic black globes making it difficult to tell which way the camera is pointing are ubiquitous. They watch every table, change window, guest, and casino employees. Reconnaissance teams monitor video screens for guest safety and to identify card counters, loaded dice, hands under the table. What’s most precious to the owners - every single dollar and chip – is never for a moment out of sight. The entire system depends on the “eye-in-the-sky.”

            Off the Strip, Las Vegas looks different. Instead of resort buffets that feed 5000 a day, children in classrooms wait for their yogurt and granola breakfast, and are often still there 10 hours later for the chicken sandwich and grapes “after school snack” that is their only dinner.

            We visited a Boys and Girls Club, afterschool meal program at an elementary school, and a breakfast in the classroom program for middle school students.  The children were quick to tell Mary Sue Milliken about their favorite foods and show Jill Davis their favorite toys. A principal told us of how much better the kids are doing since they moved to breakfast after the bell. School Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, insisted “the only way to create economic opportunity for low income kids is through education, and the only way to educate them is to make sure their basic needs are met.”

In Nevada only 47% of the kids who get school lunch are getting school breakfast. Governor Brian Sandoval and First Lady Kathleen Sandoval fought for and enacted legislation that will change that by mandating breakfast after the bell for school districts with high percentages of low-income kids. The Clark County school district is the 5th largest in the U.S. so we can’t end childhood hunger in America without ending it here. We have the necessary ingredients: a culinary destination with chef /restaurant partners, a champion in First Lady Kathleen Sandoval and the Governor, a capable partner in the Three Square Food Bank. 

Unlike casino guests, these kids, are all but invisible. Some are homeless. Too many grow-up in violent surroundings. Many of the school children are born here and are citizens but their parents are not which makes for constant challenges.  For these kids we are their “eye-in-the-sky”.  It is our vigilance that keeps them safe.  We must be the ones to intervene when something goes wrong for them. We must be the ones who say we won’t let them out of our sight because there is nothing more precious.