Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Crossing the threshold to historic levels of childhood hunger

For the first time in our nation’s history a majority of fourth graders in the U.S. are enrolled in the school lunch program, having crossed the threshold to 52% from the 49% that were enrolled in 2009. The total number of students receiving subsidized lunches now exceeds 21 million. That’s the bad news, which is reported today in a front page of the New York Times @  about the millions of kids from once solidly middle class families who are getting free lunches for the first time because of changed economic circumstances and lost jobs.

The good news is that programs like school lunch and school breakfast are in place and as entitlements they are funded to absorb such increases in enrollment. They remain one of the few elements of the social safety net that can be relied upon, even as state governments are projected to face increasingly crushing economic burdens and anticipate cutting if not shredding many other efforts to help children and families in need.

This is a continuing affirmation of the very core of our No Kid Hungry strategy. And as we saw from yesterday’s incredible outpouring of support for Share Our Strength following the Dr. Oz Show, the American public gets it, wants to do something about it, and believes that No Kid Hungry is an effective answer worthy of their generosity. And so we enter this holiday period with increased resources and support, but also increased urgency knowing that not only hungry children, but those who care about them are looking to us to make the difference.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Blessing

      At our Thanksgiving dinner, we will repeat the short blessing we’ve been saying every night at dinner since Nate was born. Since Rosemary is Catholic and I’m Jewish the only thing we could agree upon was this passage from a Wendell Berry poem: “And so we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart and in eye clear. What we need is here.”

     That feels especially true at Share Our Strength this year, given the amazing talent we’ve assembled, and the powerful collective commitment to end childhood hunger that we represent. Indeed, what we need is here. For this I am most thankful. All the best to you and your family for the holiday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jeff Bridges Day Off : All About Serving Others, Making Connections

Jeff Bridges, the national spokesperson for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign was in the middle of a four month movie shoot in Boston but he arranged to take off two days to help us mark the first anniversary of the launch of our No Kid Hungry campaign. We met in New York for a 90 minute session of our No Kid Hungry Taste Force, a Food Network reception that included a preview of a new documentary on hunger they are producing for 2012, and an appearance together on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Even though this was his only break in months, Jeff took the following day to quietly tour a health center in Yonkers for people living with HIV, visit a bakery that trains the unemployed, and to help raise funds for a global peace campaign. In between he’d ask questions, suggest ideas for bringing more attention to these efforts, and help plan our strategy for continuing to grow and expand No Kid Hungry. We were accompanied by Jessie Bridges, his daughter, and a force in her own right who seems to bring the best out of her dad and everyone else around her.

“National spokesperson” only covers a small slice of Jeff’s enormous contribution to our success. His genuine compassion, dedication, and authentic commitment have inspired thousands of people to join our cause, and to give of themselves in ways they previously might not have imagined.

We didn’t get back to Boston until after 10:00 p.m. on Friday night and Jeff had to study his script for a long weekend of filming that began early Saturday morning. But he’d gone through the entire day relaxed and unhurried, not only seeking personal connection with those he met, but the interconnection between the various needs and causes that had won his attention.

Monday, November 14, 2011

No Kid Hungry, "What's" Been Achieved, and "So What?"

It’s been about a year since we publicly launched our No Kid Hungry campaign with Jeff Bridges and we will have the good fortune to be with him again later this week in New York. The accomplishments of the last 12 months are worth reviewing.

Many facts and figures reflect what we’ve done – 18 No Kid Hungry state campaigns launched or about to be, more than 104,000 NKH pledge takers, huge increases in summer meals sites in Arkansas and Colorado, countless new relationships with policymakers, funders, and volunteers.

But our friend Jeff Swartz, former CEO of Timberland, always urges: don’t tell me the ‘what’, tell me the “so what”. In that spirit, let’s look at how the past year has produced four important answers to the “so what?” challenge:

 We have added tens of thousands of children to school breakfast and summer meals programs, through innovations like the school breakfast challenge and in-classroom breakfast. There is a clear correlation between NKH advocacy / community organizing and increased participation, demonstrating that: Ending childhood hunger through existing food and nutrition programs is achievable.

 Annual 2011 revenue around $34 million means we are raising almost $100,000 a day, every day, thanks to a diversified revenue engine with all of the necessary expertise – event, corporate, foundation, grassroots and large donor – to scale to the size necessary to end childhood hunger. That is probably only about 1/3 of what we will need to eventually raise on an annual basis, but will soon be in range and that is a manageable amount of money, proving that: Ending childhood hunger is affordable.

 We have changed the conversation from feeding kids to ending childhood hunger, and we have changed the focus from federal legislation to its implementation at the state level. We have led the effort to re-imagine and re-invent the nation’s strategy for ending childhood hunger in ways that attract bipartisan support including Republican leadership in Virginia and Texas, demonstrating that in contrast to the many issues on which our government is politically paralyzed: Ending childhood hunger is politically feasible.

 The need is greater than ever. With millions of Americans out of work, child poverty is climbing. For the first time in history, 45 million Americans are on SNAP, and more than half are children. Their current suffering puts their futures at risk. But solutions to childhood hunger exist and so does federal funding for those solutions, which makes: Ending childhood hunger a moral imperative.

We’re still a long way from reaching our goal. As we had hoped our early progress has inspired the support we need to sustain our strategy and continue to grow. The year ahead will be pivotal in cementing and scaling our early results, especially as we drill down deeper in the states where we’ve already launched No Kid Hungry campaigns. But in a few short months we have demonstrated that those ingredients most critical to our success are at hand: strategies that are achievable, affordable, politically realistic, and morally imperative. It would be difficult for anyone to say “so what?” to that.