Important news: As you may have seen by now, yesterday the USDA’s
Economic Research Service reported that hunger among children is at its lowest
level on record. For “Very Low Food Security”, the government metric that
correlates closest to hunger, as opposed to “food insecurity” which is more of
a socio-economic measure, “both children and adults
experienced instances of very low food security in 0.7 percent of households
with children (274,000 households out of 125 million households) in 2015. The
decline from 2014 (1.1 percent) was statistically significant.”
This progress is the result
of an improving economy and the higher participation rates in food and
nutrition programs ranging from school breakfast to SNAP which we have worked
so hard to achieve.
Needless to say, our
work is still far from done, even more of the gap must be closed, and many of
the gains we’ve made need to be protected and consolidated. As the report
explains in distinguishing between the hunger represented by Very Low
Food Security and the economic anxiety and deprivation represented by “food
insecurity”: “Children were food insecure at times during the year in 7.8
percent of U.S. households with children (3.0 million households), down
significantly from 9.4 percent in 2014. These households were unable at times
during the year to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children.”
So we won’t be easing up any time soon.
But with 99.3% of American children NOT
living in households that experience Very Low Food Security, this data offers a
glimpse of a future in which Share Our Strength will celebrate the success of
it’s No Kid Hungry campaign, and be in a stronger position than ever to support
other critical strategies combating hunger and poverty.
In late August
at Goose Rocks Beach in Maine as we were sitting and chatting with friends one
afternoon, Rosemary was first to notice a flock of geese flying south. They
were high and far out over the ocean, flying left to right like the arrow in
the Fed X logo. They confirmed what we already knew from the shorter days and
cooler temperatures: summer was drawing to a close. The geese were just more
businesslike about it than we were.
The flock Roe
noticed was followed by another and another, as regularly as if spaced by Air
Traffic Control. Each had as many as 40 birds, in classic V formation, each
drafting off the wing of the one in front, and flapping wings in sync to catch
the full benefit of the updraft. They take turns flying in the lead. Drafting
in this manner saves between 20-30% of their energy. They go farther as a group
than any ever could on their own. Our favorite African proverb (“If you
want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together”) made
literal by the aerodynamics of geese.
Much is still
unknown about how geese navigate and communicate, but little needs to be
repeated twice. Everyone stays in line. The trip is about survival. What drives
their long journey is the same as what drives ours at Share Our Strength: the
imperative of sustenance, feeding, food. The geese demonstrate an efficiency
of flight, certainty of direction, and unity of purpose worth striving for as
we return from the Labor Day break.
Gates recounts his conversation with Washington State Teacher of the Year, Nate
Bowling who teaches at a school in Tacoma, WA where 70% of the students are
eligible for a free or reduced price school meal, what educators are calling
“the New Majority” in recognition of more than 50% of public school
students now living below the poverty line.
Bowling received a lot of visibility when he wrote a piece called “The
Conversation I’m Tired of Not Having” for which Gates includes a link. It’s
blunt and provocative about racial attitudes and practices in America and also
worth your time to read. But what caught my attention was how Bowling so
directly framed what’s at stake in our work, while explaining his passion for
teaching: “It is a matter of life and death,” he
said. “If my students are not successful in school, they end up in the
Bowling was optimistic: “All kids can learn if they have the support.” He
was speaking mostly of quality teachers but we know that necessary support
includes the food and nutrition critical for kids to succeed. That’s the
fundamental premise of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.
Whether we succeed or not really can be a matter of life and death.
I typically seek
out inspiring and encouraging news to share because our work is hard and we
need all the positive energy we can get to keep moving forward against long
odds.But it’s also important to know
when those odds get longer and that’s what we learned last week in an analysis
published by the Congressional Budget Office.
study found that since the great recession those who were well off have
recovered and those who were not are in even worse shape (evident in contrasting
stock market growth with the number of Americans on SNAP not going down
Wealthy families and average families
both had more wealth than when before the recession hit, but the wealthy saw
theirs bounce back at a much faster rate.In 2007 8% of American families had debt averaging $20,000. By 2013, 12%
had debt averaging $32,000. Now the wealthiest 10% of Americans hold
three-quarters of the nation’s wealth, as opposed to the two-thirds they held
not only being poor in the richest country on earth, but being left out of the
recovery our government worked so hard to achieve. For some.It’s not fate, accident, or bad luck.
Policies and political choices create such a dynamic. The hunger we fight is a
symptom of this deeper problem.
if you listened very carefully, you would not have heard anything from either
political party about this new report on growing inequity.Instead, giving voice to that falls to us and
others.It’s not technically what we do
day to day, but it is inescapable morally. If you’d come to the scene of a
tragic accident that injured kids, called for help and learned the emergency
responders were distracted doing something else, you would do the best you
could whether you were trained to do so or not.So must we. That’s a tall order given all we have going on, but it’s the
only path to preventing recurring tragedy and damaged kids.
danger in our presidential campaign is the divisiveness and even potential climate
of violence being fostered. But the second greatest danger is that issues have
been hijacked almost completely out of the campaign as the press and political
community have little choice but to react to and denounce one outrage after
will our next president have to enact specific policies and programs if
policies and programs are not being seriously discussed?How can we discern and assess competing ideas
for fixing our schools, addressing hunger and poverty, rebuilding the nation’s
infrastructure, combatting terrorism? The president we inaugurate in 2017 is much
more likely to be effective in creating change if voters endorse such change
beforehand, not merely default to who they see as the less dangerous of the
What a shame it
would be, given the great challenges facing our nation – and especially the
desperate needs of the most vulnerable and voiceless of our fellow citizens:
the hungry, homeless, impoverished - for our next president to have spent years
and a hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuit of the office and then get
there without a clear mandate from the public to get specific things done
starting on day one.
If there’s a
silver lining in the dark cloud hanging over our presidential campaign it is
the possibility that the growing backlash to crossing every boundary of
civilized discourse and decency actually unites the country in ways that
nothing else could. Each day now sees
more long-serving public servants, past and present, many of them Republican, putting
nation ahead of party.That needs to happen
on both sides of the aisle, now and in the next White House. It needs to emerge as our new national ethic.
If it does, even for a short while, there are no limits to what we can
If there is any
lesson from the past 6 months it’s that anything can happen in American
politics and, as Morgan Freeman says at the end of the film Feast Of Love, “the
unexpected is always upon us.” So while no one can predict what the next
12 weeks will bring, one possibility is that Donald Trump will unify the
country – to support Hillary Clinton - in ways that never could have been
imagined. We are already starting to see indications – in the
endorsements of Secretary Clinton by a Republican Congressman, by former CIA
Director Morrell, by Hewlett Packard’s Meg Whitman. More will soon
The opportunity for Secretary Clinton, if she can rise to the occasion, is to
put partisanship aside in the same way that some Republicans are beginning to
do, and to convey a vision of how she would govern with national unity as a
first priority, as opposed to the partisanship that that has all but paralyzed
Washington for many years (Congress’s failure to provide Zika funding as
the latest disconcerting example).
Should such a “unity Administration” come to pass, it wouldn’t last forever,
that’s just not the way of the world, but there could be a window early
on in which some big things could get done – especially on behalf of those who
engender bipartisanship in the first place: America’s kids. Such a
scenario – admittedly only one of many that could unfold between now and
election day including the possibility of quite the opposite - adds
urgency to our own efforts to develop, and work with others on, a bold and
broad policy agenda that addresses childhood hunger and the child poverty that
underlies it. Ever the optimist….
In recent years presidential nominating conventions have evolved from
selecting nominees, to serving as a four day infomercial for candidates hoping
for a bounce in the polls. I attended my first convention in San
Francisco in 1984 when Senator Gary Hart for whom I worked came in second to
Vice President Mondale for the Democratic nomination. I remember standing on
the podium behind Hart, looking out at thousands of supporters from across the
country that had been part of his journey, and thinking how much talent goes
untapped after campaigns end. That, combined with the devastating famine in
Ethiopia just 30 days later, motivated me to start Share Our Strength.
The post-convention period is a chance to assess candidates in the new light of
a one-on-one contest; to find out who will put what is right ahead of
what’s popular, who speaks for those too vulnerable and voiceless to
speak for themselves, who supports investments and even sacrifices that might
be necessary to advance the prospects of the next generation.
General election campaigns target the middle class. But the work of many of us
in the nonprofit sector focuses not on the middle class but on those living in
poverty. If we expect politicians to pay attention to our issues and embrace
our ideas – during the campaign and during the next President’s administration
- we have to follow five “rules for relevance”:
nWe must shine a
spotlight on problems that are solvable and programs that work. Childhood
hunger in America is a good example, as are the effective but underutilized
solutions like school breakfast and summer meals.
nWe must hold
ourselves to the highest standards of performance measurement, accountability,
and transparency using clear metrics to demonstrate outcomes. The work of
the LEAP Ambassadors Community @ http://leapofreason.org/performance-imperative/about-pi/
offers excellent ideas for doing so.
nWe must say how
we’ll pay for what we advocate. Congress operates under spending caps that
dictate when funding is added for one program, it must be subtracted somewhere
demonstrate the return on investment to society tomorrow from interventions we
nWe must be
strategic: not just asking for more spending everywhere but being selective in
fighting for what has the most bang for the buck.
Over 30 years Share
Our Strength has learned that our work as a nonprofit can’t take the place of
government. But it can model ideas for public policy to adopt. Nonprofits can
do things government cannot do: we can take risks, be more entrepreneurial and
agile, and be closer to and better positioned to learn from those we serve. But
when it comes to scaling our successes, to ensuring they reach all who need
them, public support is indispensable.
I left my first
political convention back in 1984 disappointed, exhausted, and broke. But I
also left energized. From Iowa to New Hampshire, from New Jersey to
California, I’d seen firsthand the vast array of talented people who wanted to
make a difference, who had skills to deploy and strengths to share. Our
learnings at Share Our Strength in the 30 years since, encapsulated in the five
rules above, show how they can be engaged to create transformational and
lasting political and social change.