Monday, January 15, 2018

Words, Deeds, and the "Beloved Community" on MLK Day 2018


Throughout this MLK holiday weekend most of the commentary on the racist vulgarity of America’s president has revealed three categories of response:  (1) those on social media who find clever and often equally vulgar ways to insult the president in return; (2) rants; and (3) genuine heartbreak and despair.

I can relate to all three, especially the third, but none fully satisfy.  I want to know not only what people say, but also what they are going to do. Make no mistake: silence is as unacceptable now as it has been on other occasions this past year. But words alone are not sufficient. 

They must be matched with concrete commitments to more effectively serve, represent, and be the voice of those who are the targets of not only racism but of the escalating assault on poor people of all backgrounds.  We saw this most recently through the proposal to allow states to strip the poor of Medicaid if they are not working, notwithstanding studies showing those on Medicaid are better able to get jobs.  We will see it again in battles over SNAP and other forms of assistance to low income Americans

            At Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Partners, we are among the few in the privileged position to not only speak but also act.  Our plan has always been to organize, mobilize, advocate, reform, build, strengthen, motivate, and enlist and enroll those in need in programs that work. And to help those who serve them to do so more effectively. That doesn’t change. But the urgency to strengthen every partnership, whether with donor or local organization or client, increases with the knowledge that we will not only be ending hunger, but standing up for Dr. King’s vision of “the beloved community” that changes not only our laws but our souls.

 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Progress No One Thought Possible Until It Happened


             The podcast episode we released today will convince you that there is not a school in the country that can’t be cooking healthy, nutritious, fresh and locally sourced food right in its own school kitchen.  That’s what Laura Benavidez and Jill Shah set out to prove in a pilot program that is delighting low income kids who now enjoy school meals.

Laura is the executive director of food service for Boston Public School and previously worked with us on breakfast after the bell in the L.A. Unified School District where she served for 10 years. Jill created the Shah Family Foundation with her husband after he co-founded and took public Wayfair, the home furnishing on-line retailer.  Share Our Strength Boston chefs Andy Husbands and Ken Oringer shared their strength by helping to design and supply the school kitchens.  Their story is a great example of everyone having the capacity to share their strength and make a difference on behalf of kids.
            You can listen at on iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/add-passion-and-stir/id1164624510?mt=2 or     http://addpassionandstir.com/youve-got-to-measure-the-hum-why-kids-in-boston-love-school-meals/  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

At 12 Below Zero, A New Year's Day Like No Other


           We awoke this New Year’s Day at Goose Rocks Beach in Maine to a temperature of -12 degrees (before calculating wind chill). I choose to take it as an omen that metrics once thought unimaginable are ultimately attainable. 

 

From my window facing the ocean I see something I’ve never seen before.  The clouds are not in the clear blue sky but instead sitting on top of the water. The extreme temperature differential between Maine’s always cold ocean and the -12 degree air has created a steaming layer of clouds where air and water meet.   In front of the clouds, in the water close to shore swim five fat black ducks, as leisurely as if in the Bahamas. I envy their serenity in the face of extreme conditions and consider adding the aspiration to my new year’s resolutions. But serenity rarely accelerates change.

            2018 promises challenging conditions for our work. Pundits speculate whether the political earthquake of 2016 will be sustained or turn out instead to have been an aberration that gets reversed and ends one party control of Congress and White House. For all of the prognosticating no one can be certain. Every prediction is sewn tightly to the caveat “of course, there’s never really been a time like this so who knows.”

            What does it all mean for Share Our Strength and the children we serve? At least two things: First, preoccupation with a divisive midterm election campaign makes it unlikely our political leaders will get much done. Progress addressing basic human needs will depend on organizations like ours working with partners on the ground to protect existing services and better connect those most vulnerable to them.  State governments will continue to be critical to our strategy.

Second, in 2017 we staked a new claim that went beyond increasing percentages of kids participating in school meals. For the first time we asserted childhood hunger has been significantly reduced, with one-third fewer children experiencing hunger today.  (See our excellent year-end thank-you video ow.ly/1c9n30huXqo )

It’s a bold claim but not a surprising one.  When you combine 3 million more kids getting school breakfast, with unemployment down to 4.1 percent, and USDA data showing record low levels of the “very low food security” that represents missed meals, we know that many kids, while still poor, and possibly even food insecure, at least are not hungry. 

Still, this bold claim represents a significant departure for us. In addition to emphasizing the harmful consequences of kids not getting the nutrition they need, we are also helping our stakeholders better assess where we are in relationship to the finish line.  There is still a long way to go, but not nearly as long as before. The closer we get the more relentless we will strive to reach it, while also planning more comprehensively for what comes next once we do. In this way 2018 finds Share Our Strength on a new trajectory. Welcome back. Happy New Year. Stay warm. But not too serene.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Great News For Kids at Year End


Yesterday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that a comprehensive 5 point plan to end childhood hunger would be part of his 2018 State of the State package. The Governor’s “No Student Goes Hungry Program” includes requiring breakfast after the bell for schools in which 70% of the students qualify for free and reduced price meals.  The state will provide $7 million in capital funds for technical assistance and equipment needed to expand breakfast in 1400 schools.  See https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-unveils-15th-proposal-2018-state-state-launch-comprehensive-no-student-goes

Statewide advocacy wins like this are at the core of Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign strategy. They reinforce that concrete, dramatic and measurable progress is possible, even in the context of the national political environment characterized by division and dysfunction.  

            Another leader whose accomplishments have been extraordinary is Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe. This recent Washington Post retrospective on her work includes her efforts on childhood hunger.  https://goo.gl/4oPK9c

           Have a great holiday weekend and New Year.  Thanks as always for your support and friendship, and for all it makes possible.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

With Social Safety Net At Risk, Nonprofits Have an Obligation to Speak Out Loud and Clear


Politico’s report on anticipated efforts to make deep cuts in the social safety net is must reading for all those who advocate on behalf of the vulnerable and voiceless.  https://www.politico.com/story/2017/12/11/trump-welfare-reform-safety-net-288623  Major social progress is at risk.  Childhood hunger for example has been reduced by 30%, to its lowest level in decades, but proposals to make it harder to access SNAP food stamp benefits could reverse that impressive progress.

At a minimum every social services nonprofit should be preparing and sharing an analysis of the impact that such actions would have on those they serve.  The contemplated legislative and regulatory changes are so sweeping that they could undo the hard-earned gains of many great nonprofits and social entrepreneurs.

Although opposition to such changes can be expected and will be essential. But it will not, by itself, be enough.  Advocates have to do more than say what they are against. They must also put forth a compelling vision of what they are for – and of how investments in children and families will improve our national health, education, and strengthen our economy.  

While nonprofit tax status precludes partisan activity, nothing precludes nonprofits from educating the public and policymakers alike as to how so-called “reforms” will impact those they serve.  Nonprofits that remain silent on these issues fail to meet their full responsibility.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Putting People Ahead of Party


The op-ed by two Republican and two Democratic governors in this morning’s New York Times is a great example of the difference between paralyzed policymaking in Washington D.C. and the ability of governors to rise above partisan dysfunction to get things done. ow.ly/jZTP30h5WSX  It is particularly important when on behalf of low-income kids who are the most vulnerable and voiceless of us all.  

The Children’s Health Insurance Program the governors are calling on Congress to extend is a life-saving source of health coverage for nearly 9 million poor children.  That it was allowed to expire in the first place is an inexplicable and shameful new low in the annals of Congressional inaction.
 
For the past decade, Share Our Strength has focused its energies on working with governors to enroll kids in federal nutrition programs like school breakfast and the summer meals. And governors of both parties, liberals, conservatives and moderates, in states like Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, Montana, Maryland, Missouri and others have risen to the occasion and put children first.  The results have been phenomenal contributing to a nearly 30 percent reduction in childhood hunger nationwide. 

Members of Congress are often preoccupied with institutional imperatives of attaining or maintaining their majority and the power and perks that come with it. They look to party leaders before deciding on a course of action.  But governors, while of course sensitive to political considerations, don’t reflexively put the needs of their party ahead of the needs of the citizens they represent.  Instead, they have an executive’s reflex for getting things done, rather than just scoring political points.  

If you want to find where American democracy still works, not perfectly but surprisingly often and well, look away from the nation’s capital and toward governors and other state and local leaders. Their progress is measurable, their leadership inspiring.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

News To Add Joy To Your Thanksgiving

            Wishing all of our friends and supporters the best for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, with gratitude for the historic achievements your support has made possible.

Childhood hunger is down by one-third since we began the No Kid Hungry campaign – more kids are getting the school meals they need than ever before – and we are well on our way to achieving our ambitious goal. At a time when Americans are desperate for evidence that our problems can be solved, we have forged the bipartisan public-private partnerships to solve this one. But still, too many kids in this country are struggling with hunger. I’m so grateful that we can count on you to help get us across the finish line.

            I hope you will take some joy this holiday season, as I do, from the words of 4th grade teacher Angela Homan who said of our signature program: “Breakfast After the Bell changed the environment of my classroom. My students begin their days ready to learn which is a dream come true for me.”  Or of single mom Heidi Alphen who said of our nutrition education efforts: “Cooking Matters gave me my confidence back when I was at the lowest point in my life. It encouraged me to go back to work in the food industry, which in turn provided myself and my family with so many opportunities. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for making a difference in my life.”

             Wishing you and your family all the best. Thanks again and have a happy and healthy holiday.