I’ve been struck by the importance of relentlessly reinforcing the key messages of No Kid Hungry and what makes it so compelling. Given how powerful those messages are, and how strong a case we’ve built, I thought I’d summarize my view of the top 6 reasons why the time is right for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.
1. Record Levels of Need: In the aftermath of the recession, with unemployment at 9.1%, and persistent poverty, there are now 45 million Americans on the SNAP (food stamp) program and half of them are children. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Report shows that the child poverty rate in the U.S. has grown by 18% between 2000 and 2009, with 15 million of our children now living in poverty. More than twice that number lives in homes where no parent has a full-time job. Poverty rose in 38 of our 50 states over the last decade. But you don’t need to memorize all of these numbers. Just remember the faces from Katherine van Steenburgh’s photos of her summer meals visit in New Mexico. Innocent children are suffering in this country and No Kid Hungry is one of the fastest and most effective ways to change that.
2. Effective Solutions Exist and They Are Funded: The most effective tools for fighting childhood hunger are the public food and nutrition programs consisting of SNAP, school meals, summer meals, and WIC, to name a few. 20 million children in America get a free school lunch, but only 9 million get school breakfast and only 3 million get summer meals, even though all 20 million are eligible. I call this Washington’s best kept billion dollar secret because school breakfast, summer meals and SNAP are entitlement programs with at least than a billion dollars untapped but available to close the gap between the number of children eligible and the number actually participating.
3. No Kid Hungry is a Win-Win proposition: Everyone wins when more children are enrolled in public food and nutrition programs. The children are fed and healthier. Our schools and teachers have students better able to pay attention and are ready to learn. Better students and better schools mean an economy that is more competitive globally. And federal funds flow into cash-strapped states to reimburse for meals in ways that stimulate the local economy, buying bread from local bakers, mile from local dairy farmers, etc.
4. Measurable Results, Historically and Now: The programs work which is why they have been around for more than 30 years, have enjoyed bi-partisan support, and are continually reauthorized. At a time when so many doubt that government works at all, this is a shining example of public-private partnerships at their best. And we can count increases in summer meal sites, increases in school breakfast participation, etc. as we have in Maryland, Colorado, Arkansas and elsewere, so we know when the NKH campaign is effective and when it is not. That commitment to accountability inspires confidence in our stakeholders and distinguishes is from other organizations and efforts.
5. Unprecedented Community of Diverse Talent: We have attracted an unprecedented diversity of talented supporters including corporate CEO’s, chefs and culinary leaders, teachers and educators, Governors, Mayors and other elected officials, entertainers, philanthropic leaders, social media activists, and grassroots supporters in the form of nearly 60,000 NKH pledge-takers. There has never been such a broad-based, cross-sector, multi-faceted coalition championing this issue. It is a formula for success.
6. NKH is an Oasis in the Political Desert: Children’s Food and Nutrition programs were not cut in the budget deal that accompanied the debt ceiling increase, and were made specifically exempt from the automatic cuts that would be triggered if the Congressional joint “super committee” fails to reach an agreement. As other essential services, especially in health and education are cut, the safety net represented by the child nutrition entitlement programs stands out as all the more vital an oasis in the desert.
Needless to say we still have a long way to go to make No Kid Hungry a reality. There are plenty of obstacles and potential pitfalls along the way. And we have set the bar high in trying to accomplish something so difficult that no one has been able to yet achieve it. That’s what also makes it so necessary.
There are surely many other reasons, in addition to the six above, why the time is right for our No Kid Hungry strategy. But the larger point is that an unprecedented combination of ingredients, some brought about by your relentless efforts and leadership, now promises hope to millions of American children. That promise is ours to keep.