Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Cabinet Job Interview We're Still Waiting To See

            Shortly after Tom Vilsack became President Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture, he told a small group of us about his job interview with the then President Elect. “He said to me ‘at the USDA you are going to be responsible for farmers and commodities and forests, and many other pressing matters but the first and most important thing I want you to do is to make sure that all of our children are fed.’”

            With the Secretary of Agriculture being one of the last remaining cabinet positions for President-Elect Trump to fill, one can only hope that a similar conversation is taking place.  But amid all of the talk about dealmakers, and conflicts of interest, and the importance of who “looks the part”, it’s a bit hard to imagine.

            Not much has been heard about vulnerable children from the parade of office seekers coming and going from Trump Tower and Mar-A-Lago.  That’s a shame because America’s children are hurting with nearly 20% of them living below the poverty line. When our kids are compromised in terms of their nutrition, health and educational achievement, our economic competitiveness and national security are compromised as well.

President Obama set the bar high with his appointments. Secretary Vilsack and the team he assembled remained faithful to the charge of protecting the most vulnerable. In my 30 years in Washington, Tom Vilsack strikes me as a rare public servant who combines compassion with competence, and empathy with effective executive leadership.  Child poverty rates improved during his tenure and the percentage of children living in households with the kinds of very low food security that means missed meals, fell to one of the lowest levels recorded.

But there is still a long way to go. We can only hope that someone senior in the new Administration will have a story similar to Secretary Vilsack’s about a new president urging him to put children’s interests ahead of the special interests.  If not, the rest of us must.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Confronting Bigotry With Values: Our New Moral Imperative

The following excerpt was the last of 5 points made this morning at our Summer Meals Summit, about how Share Our Strength and other nonprofits must navigate the new political environment:

           Our political culture has evolved from unpleasantly divided to unacceptably ugly.  It is undeniable that we’ve seen bigotry, misogyny and racism become more accepted and normalized. Leave aside where the blame may lie, but make no mistake, this not only stands in the way of our specific goals, but it also transcends them in importance. We have an obligation to make the values that have always been implicit in our work, explicit. We need not and should not do so in a partisan, divisive or finger pointing way.  But we must say out loud that our values of inclusiveness and diversity mean that when we say No Kid Hungry we mean No Kid. No city kid and no rural kid. No Baptist child and no Muslim child. No fifth generation American child and no immigrant American child. No straight kid and no gay kid.  No white or black or Latino kid. And while we must work with anyone, from any party, from any Administration who is willing to join us in combatting the politics and bureaucracy and indifference that too often stand between a hungry child and a healthy meal, there will be no ambiguity about our values.

            I urge all of our colleagues in the public, nonprofit and civic sectors to do the same. Whether their work is poverty or climate change, health care or hunger, We face a new moral imperative. It’s a tough assignment. We’ve succeeded by sticking to our knitting. And it is tempting to continue to do so.  Speaking out against hate speech is the job of the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations. It’s their core competence, not ours.  But when such behavior begins to flourish out in the open as it has and is, we can’t leave it to others to defend the very people we seek to serve, and work alongside.   Universal human dignity must be the underpinning for what we do and how we do it.


Remarks at our Summer Meals Summit on December 5

            Thank you all for being here and special thanks to the team at Share Our Strength – Derrick, Stephanie, Duke and Courtney and so many others, as well as Arbys and C&S Wholesale Grocers for sponsoring and making possible this convening.  I am also so grateful to Secretary Tom Vilsack and Under Secretary Kevin Concannon not only for being here today, but for the long and compassionate leadership you’ve provided and which we are going to sorely miss. You’ve made such a difference in the lives of America’s kids.

            The next few days will be rich in information about how we can be more effective and successful in ensuring that the vital nutrition kids receive during the school year is not cruelly and damagingly interrupted over the summer.  The expertise that has come together in this room is unparalleled. If there is any group anywhere that can make it happen, this is it.  

I want to focus my remarks on what’s at stake in our success, and how we navigate the new political environment.

            I’ll begin my sharing some words from some young students that made a big impression on me. Like many of you I spend a lot of time in schools. And recently while I was speaking to a 6th grade class, I was asked these two questions: “Are you able to serve the children and families you work with, without embarrassing them?” and “Do you get to seen and know the children and families you serve and do they feel seen or do they feel invisible to you?”

            It seems to me that these two questions sum up what we are fighting for and why:   Ensuring that every child is visible, every child knows and sees and feels our commitment to them, and that we make these investments in ways that don’t discriminate or embarrass, but rather honor and lift up children and ensure their dignity.   That’s the best argument I know for ensuring that summer meals work for every child that’s eligible – and they are not wondering whether their food will come from when out of school, nor subject to the vagaries of emergency food assistance.

            Tomorrow will be a month since the election of Donald Trump as President.  Many of us have been asked what the election results mean for our work and for the goal of achieving No Kid Hungry. And while a lot is still unknown, I think it means at least the following five things:

First, our focus will remain where it has been so productively aimed these past few years: on the states and governors, both Democrat and Republican, who are responsible for executing programs like school breakfast and summer meals. In a new political environment where many essential resources are at risk of going away for children, the public food and nutrition programs which have such a track record of bipartisan support and effectiveness, may offer states one of the most economical and impactful way of investing in healthy and well educated kids.  And as you and I have seen, at the local level citizens are less ideological, more pragmatic, more willing to invest and sacrifice for kids in their community. As much as we hope for shortcuts, we may have to continue the long hard slog that has led to an increase of tens of thousands of summer meals sites.

Second, we must rededicate ourselves to bearing witness, to seeking a better understanding of our country and its citizens and their needs, to understanding the truth of America, which includes 31 million kids at or near poverty, and many families struggling in an economy that does not provide them with good paying jobs. You are in of the most powerful positions in this country because you can see, hear, feel and touch what hunger looks like. And you must make it your job to take others – civic leaders, business leaders, journalists – into the community to bear witness too.

Third, although the political pendulum has swung dramatically, Washington can’t get much more partisan than it has already been these past 8 years, with one side proposing and the other all but automatically opposing.  But that hasn’t stopped us from working in a bipartisan fashion on behalf of children and child nutrition, and we will continue to do so.

Fourth, the best defense is a good offense. Our No Kid Hungry community must do more than oppose proposed policy changes although oppose them we will when it comes to threats to children. We must remain on offense, and not be afraid to advocate for big ideas or even expensive ones, as opposed to retrenching to only focus on fighting budget cuts or bad proposals.  If there is greater economic growth and massive infrastructure investment, then we will need a strong, healthy and educated workforce to make it happen and sustain it.  An element of any infrastructure plan should be to pay for school conversions to breakfast in the classroom, building summer meals sites, revamping WIC clinics, and investing in early childhood health and education.  While our values remain the same, there are more politically savvy ways to frame our role in the national conversation, emphasizing Return On Investment, human capital, efficiency, which we should have been talking about all along.

            Fifth and finally, our political culture has evolved from unpleasantly divided to unacceptably ugly.  It is undeniable that we’ve seen bigotry, misogyny and racism become more accepted and normalized. Leave aside where the blame may lie, but make no mistake, this not only stands in the way of our specific goals, but it also transcends them in importance. We have an obligation to make the values that have always been implicit in our work, explicit. We need not and should not do so in a partisan, divisive or finger pointing way.  But we must say out loud that our values of inclusiveness and diversity mean that when we say No Kid Hungry we mean No Kid. No city kid and no rural kid. No Baptist child and no Muslim child. No fifth generation American child and no immigrant American child. No straight kid and no gay kid.  No white or black or Latino kid. And while we must work with anyone, from any party, from any Administration who is willing to join us in combatting the politics and bureaucracy and indifference that too often stand between a hungry child and a healthy meal, there will be no ambiguity about our values.

            I urge all of our colleagues in the public, nonprofit and civic sectors to do the same. Whether their work is poverty or climate change, health care or hunger, We face a new moral imperative. It’s a tough assignment. We’ve succeeded by sticking to our knitting. And it is tempting to continue to do so.  Speaking out against hate speech is the job of the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations. It’s their core competence, not ours.  But when such behavior begins to flourish out in the open as it has and is, we can’t leave it to others to defend the very people we seek to serve, and work alongside.   The universal human dignity that those 6th graders so keenly understood must be the underpinning for what we do and how we do it.

            So thank you for the experience and wisdom you bring here today. Thank you for the hard work and commitment that will be required going forward.   Remember the words of Poet Gwendolyn Brooks that are inscribed on the plaque we will be presenting to Secretary Vilsack: “We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude. And bond. “

Monday, November 28, 2016

Mark Shriver, Pope Francis, The Year of Mercy, Sharing Strength

            My friend Mark Shriver, an ally of ours who runs Save The Children Action Network, has a book being published on Tuesday called Pilgrimage: My Search For the Real Pope Francis.  In connection with that he wrote this op-ed for the New York Times about the Pope and mercy, It is also very much about bearing witness, personal transformation, and how each of us can make a difference in the world.  I think you’ll find that it resonates with our work, especially how one shares their strength, whether Catholic, or as in my case, not.  An excerpt:
“I had considered mercy from an intellectual perspective and believed the pope was essentially calling me to be nicer to people. But he is calling on us to live mercy on a deeply personal basis that changes the very essence of who we are.
In his book “The Name of God Is Mercy,” he described an episode from his time as a rector in Argentina. The parish church sometimes helped out a woman whose husband had left her, and who had turned to prostitution to feed her young children.
            “I remember one day — it was during the Christmas holidays — she came with her children to the College and asked for me. They called me and I went to greet her. She had come to thank me. I thought it was for the package of food from Caritas that we had sent to her. ‘Did you receive it?’ I asked. ‘Yes, yes, thank you for that, too. But I came here today to thank you because you never stopped calling me SeƱora.’ ”
The story forced me to think about how I treated people in need, particularly the homeless man I saw outside my office every day. I occasionally gave him money, but I didn’t stop and look him in the eye; I didn’t ask his name, let alone call him Mister.
Now I know his name is Robert. When I give him money or buy him breakfast, I ask him how he is doing. I don’t do it every time I encounter a homeless person, but I am getting better.

Mark is an upcoming guest on our podcast Add Passion and Stir, available on iTunes and @ http://addpassionandstir.com/


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Thanksgiving Thank You for Sharing Your Strength

Thanksgiving 2016

To all of Share Our Strength’s friends and supporters:

            “I’ve got to step up my game in terms of doing more for my community” chef Tony Maws (Craigie on Main, in Cambridge, MA) told me prior to recording an episode of our podcast Add Passion and Stir last Friday morning. http://addpassionandstir.com/ Tony, active on behalf of Share Our Strength and other nonprofits is already doing a lot, and more than most, but it’s a sentiment I’ve heard at least a dozen times in the last 2 weeks days as so many people respond to the presidential election by committing to become more active either politically or civically. 

A challenge facing those of us in the nonprofit sector is to create vehicles that go beyond fundraising appeals, in which people can share their strengths and engage in ways that feel meaningful to them.   We’ve got to provide paths for direct service and paths to advocacy that improve public policy as well. In addition to Share Our Strength, there are organizations like Be The Change, of which I’m on the board, that offer creative and powerful ways for everyone to get involved @ https://bethechangeinc.org/

            I wish you a great Thanksgiving holiday and well-deserved time with friends and family. Thanks to all of our supporters for making this another incredibly productive and impactful year.  Compared to when we launched the No Kid Hungry campaign, American children at risk of hunger are substantially better off today by virtually every measure – participation rates in school meals, USDA food insecurity statistics, access to emergency food assistance via food banks and pantries, and especially the consensus we’ve helped build that childhood hunger is a solvable problem and that we can and will solve it.   

We still have a ways to go to finish what we started. But it’s hard to imagine anything more worthy of our gratitude than the opportunity we’ve had to make a difference in the lives of millions of kids and families in every part of America who are healthier, stronger, and  more secure because you shared your strength.  Thank you and have a wonderful holiday.



More Great Episodes of Add Passion and Stir Coming on Line

   Last week we recorded three new episodes of Add Passion and Stir: (1) Craigie on Main chef Tony Maws with former Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz,  (2) George Jones the CEO of Bread For the City with D.C. chef Spike Mendelsohn of We The Pizza, and (3) chef Karen Akunowicz of Myers and Chang with Eric Schwarz, founder of Citizen Schools and most recently, the College for Social Innovation.  They won’t be released for a few weeks, but several new episodes are available since our initial launch and they include Share Our Strength board member Judy Bigby discussing obesity and the social determinants of health with chef Andy Husbands who grew up in a family that benefitted from food assistance, and chef Bill Telepan of Wellness in Schools with Eric Goldstein  telling how NYC school provide a mind-boggling 1 million meals a day! If you haven’t tuned in to the podcast lately, download from iTunes or catch up @ http://addpassionandstir.com/

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election 2016, The Morning After

My note this a.m. to colleagues at Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Partners:

            I wish I had the wisdom commensurate to the searching and questioning you have this morning. I trust you know I don’t mean this as a partisan comment, but rather to acknowledge that many of us, like many Democrats and Republicans across the country, are left nearly speechless by the results of the presidential election. 

            There will be time enough in the coming days to better understand the implications for our work. For now, my instinct is that quiet reflection will serve us better than immediate armchair analysis. But one dynamic worth trying to understand better is the degree to which the election was decided less on the basis of political party, and more on the basis of income, class and education.

In the days ahead it will be incumbent on us to rededicate ourselves to doing our work in ways that unite not divide, that heal not harm, that share strength rather than exploit weakness. Most of all we need to seek to better understand our own country.  I keep thinking of the words of the late Czech playwright and president Vaclav Havel: “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.”

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Social Determinants of Health and Hunger

The Community Wealth Partners board met yesterday.  The meeting helped me appreciate how they are helping to advance our No Kid Hungry campaign as well as the broader mission of Share Our Strength in ways I’d not been paying enough attention to.  I’m writing so that you can see some of the connections I’ve come to see between their work and ours and the value they create not only for their clients but for our larger mission.  See @ http://communitywealth.com/ 

It was the first meeting for new board member Trenor Williams who is also a generous Share Our Strength donor.  Trenor was a family physician and now a business entrepreneur. He spoke about the company he is building to help physicians gather and use data on the social determinants of health - the conditions people are born into or live in including their socio-economic status, education level, housing, employment -  that affect their health. 

One of Community Wealth Partners clients is NeighborWorks America which creates opportunities for people to live in affordable homes.  Their CEO Paul Weech provided a testimonial at the beginning of the meeting about the value that Community Wealth Partners’ consultants provided to their strategic planning and to their grant recipients. He spoke of the connection between housing instability and child poverty, and how frequent family moves due to rent and housing costs exacerbate the stresses of poverty on children.  And as we know housing costs often conflict with a family’s ability to provide nutritious food for their children. 

Just as hunger might be a social determinant of health, housing might be considered a social determinant of hunger. It’s just one of many issues Community Wealth Partners works on that enables us to address aspects of poverty while keeping our financial resources targeted toward advancing our core No Kid Hungry strategies.  As we continue to achieve success enrolling kids in school breakfast and summer meals, and improving public policy via advocacy, we also need to better understand and address the social determinants of hunger. Thanks to our colleagues at Community Wealth Partners for helping us do that.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Finding Hope in a New Generation of Leadership

            I devoted much of last week to spending time with students at four colleges across the country: Trinity (in Hartford, Connecticut), Harvard, U of Virginia, and University of Denver.  It was a refreshing respite from life inside the Beltway, and especially from the daily dose of presidential politics.  In some ways it felt like an antidote to the political paralysis and the failure of government to effectively address many of our economic and social challenges.

            At each of the four schools I was speaking on some combination of social entrepreneurship, hunger, poverty and philanthropy.  The students, ranging from undergrads to Masters in Public Policy, were filled with ideas and questions, eager to discuss issues ranging from food waste and hunger, to nonprofit salaries and finding the talent and skills needed to succeed.

            I spent the most time at the University of Denver which is establishing a new Institute of Philanthropy and Social Enterprise under the leadership of David Miller a veteran of both government and philanthropy. Students there lined up for a half hour after my lecture to talk about everything from the needs of the low income high schools from which many of them had come, to how technology might be better leveraged to fight poverty.

            Unlike the politicians battling it out across the country, there was no trace of rancor or grudge held against anyone else. No one played the blame game.  No one demonized those with different views. They were ready to take responsibility for their own future. All they need from the rest of us is to get out of the way.

            At the end of the week I had dinner with my old boss, former Senator Gary Hart, and his wife Lee. They are still keenly interested in American politics, and what Gary emphasizes as the obligation in a republic to put the common good ahead of special interest. “I think I really understood American politics in the 1980’s” Hart said, “and although today’s politics are very different,  I do think there continues to be a latent American idealism that our politicians overlook.”

            He’s put his finger on exactly what I’d experienced all week – a new generation of social entrepreneurs that fills me with hope.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Darren Walker on Pepsi Board: Ethical Dilemma or Ethical Opportunity?

With regard to Ford Foundation President Darren Walker joining the board of PepsiCo, the New York Times asks: “An Activist for the Poor Joins Pepsi’s Board. Is that Ethical?”
The answer has less to do with Mr. Walker joining the board and everything to do with how he behaves on it. Assuming he remains true to the values and personal character that have made him such a compelling and effective leader on issues of poverty and social justice, there’s not only nothing unethical about his new role, but in fact reason to believe he will contribute to even stronger ethical standards for Pepsi as a whole.
If we want corporate America to actually listen to social justice activists, we have to be willing to speak to and with them in their own boardrooms when the opportunities present themselves.  This is how change occurs, not antiseptically at think tanks and foundations but in the push and pull of ideas and arguments across all sectors of nonprofit, government and business – and perhaps most importantly in business.
For 11 years while I as CEO of Share Our Strength, I served on the board of Timberland, and the boot and apparel company (on whose board Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi served before me.)  It was a great learning opportunity for me, but also a chance to shape and influence an already socially conscious company to be even more so.  Darren Walker faces a taller order given Pepsi's business interests in sugary soda’s and fatty snacks. But who better to help them shift toward a healthier and more progressive future?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Announcing Our New Podcast: ADD PASSION AND STIR

I hope you will both enjoy and be inspired by our latest effort to engage the larger audience necessary to achieve our mission. On Wednesday, October 19 via iTunes we are launching a podcast whose guests include many of the most dynamic leaders at the intersection of food and social change.  It is called Add Passion and Stir, and we need your help in launching and promoting it. 

            The three way conversations between me and two guests each week range from intimate childhood influences to global social change ambitions. They showcase many champions of our No Kid Hungry campaign and focus on solutions to hunger and poverty as well as other challenges in our communities.

We’ve already attracted amazing guests including chefs and restaurateurs Jose Andres, Gordon Hamersley, Joanne Chang, Bryce Shuman, Bill Telepan, Tanya Holland,  Jody Adams, Honest Tea Founder Seth Goldman, , Mark Shriver of Save The Children Action Network, Kathy Calvin of the UN Foundation,  John Gomperts of America’s Promise Alliance, Paul Grogan of the Boston Foundation, Irwin Redliner of the Children’s Health Fund, as well as our board colleagues Danny Meyer, Judy Ann Bigby, and Mike McCurry.  A complete list of guests is listed in the post below @ http://billybearingwitness.blogspot.com/2016/10/guest-list-for-add-passion-and-stir.html

We know more today than we ever have before about how food impacts our health and longevity, our children’s ability to learn, our energy and water use and our environment. We explore all of this in conversations people who wake up every day to change the world, who share their strengths, who add passion and stir.  

The first episode will be released this Wednesday, October 19 at 1:00 p.m. Meanwhile you can listen to the trailer @ 9c12f551-582b-4dd4-b27e-e46ddcc8826d.mp3  And while you’re at it be sure to go to iTunes and search Add Passion and Stir to subscribe for free!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Guest list for Add Passion And Stir, Share Our Strength's New Podcast

              As of today, these are the sessions of Add Passion and Stir that we've recorded, with more to be produced and released every week (usually on Wednesdays at 1:00)

            Chef Jose Andres, Jaleo, ThinkFood Group, and Kathy Calvin, CEO of UN Foundation

Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea, and chair of Beyond Meat, and Mike McCurry, Co-chair of Commission on Presidential Debate

            Danny Meyer, Union Square Hospitality Group and Emily Chinitz, Center for Child Health and Resiliency

            Chef Bryan Voltaggio of Volt and Range and Anne Sheridan former head of Children’s Cabinet for MD Governor O’Malley

            Chef Geoff Tracy and Mark Shriver, Save The Children Action Network

            Chef Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery, and Alan Khazei, co-founder of City Year and CEO of Be The Change

            Gordon Hamersley and Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up

            Jeff Mills former director of DC public school food service, and John Bridgeland , CEO of Civic Enterprises

            Chef Jody Adams of Porto, and Trade, and Paul Grogan, CEO of Boston Foundation

            Chef Andy Husbands and Judy Bigby, former Secretary of Health and Human Services, state of Massachusetts

            Chef Bill Telepan Oceana and Eric Goldstein, CEO of Office of School Support NYC

            Chef Marc Murphy of Landmarc, and Joel Berg, Hunger Free America

            Chef Tanya Holland of Brown Sugar Kitchen and Joe Marshall, founder of Alive and Free

            Chef Traci Des Jarden of Jardiniere, and Diana Dooley, Secretary of Health and Human Services for California

            Chef Bryce Shuman of Betony, and Irwin Redliner, founder and CEO of Children’s Health Fund

            Chef Kwame Onwuachie of Shaw Bijou, and John Gomperts, CEO of America’s Promise Alliance

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Emergency Share Our Strength grant to save lives in Haiti

As the devastating human toll from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti became clear, we reached out over the past few days to some partners working around the clock on the ground there, to commit approximately $20,000 toward their efforts to save the lives of victims who have no food, shelter or medical care. For the past 32 years, since Share Our Strength’s founding in the wake of the Ethiopian famine, we have always allocated a small percentage of funding to international work and Haiti has been one of areas where we’ve concentrated much of it. Although we don’t put the public spotlight on it that we reserve for our No Kid Hungry campaign, it makes a life and death difference to many children and families, and inspires many of our colleagues and stakeholders in their continued support of Share Our Strength. I’m proud that as we’ve grown larger we are still able to move quickly in situations like this to do the right thing when it is needed the most.

Monday, October 3, 2016

"Monday, Monday, So Good To Me. Monday Morning it Was All I Hoped it Would Be" - The Mamas and The Papas

            From northern California to southwest Virginia I’ve been visiting schools during my travels these past few weeks. There is something new to be learned every time.

            At Prescott Elementary School in Oakland, CA, a school food service official shared that  many more kids eat school breakfast on Monday morning compared to other days of the week … because they haven’t eaten over the weekend.  Yet another way of understanding how some kids struggle, it also underscores the inequality that defines two very different America’s. In one America the weekend is too short to do all of the things we want to do, whether seeing friends, watching sports or trying new restaurants. And come Monday morning our kids will eat the same way as they do every other day of the week. No distinction would ever occur to us.  In the other America, Monday morning’s routine is markedly different. That America’s kids will turn out for school meals in greater numbers than usual. In that harsher America the weekend is too long.

            This makes all the more important the hard fought victories we obtain, each of which lays the groundwork for the next. Maryland for example has been one of the states in which we committed to achieve “proof of concept” by investing heavily to ensure full participation of eligible kids in programs like school breakfast and summer meals. For a variety of complicated reasons Baltimore City Schools lagged behind other parts of the state.  Until last week. On Wednesday, Baltimore City and our Maryland No Kid Hungry campaign announced that all Baltimore schools will move breakfast from the cafeteria to our Grab-And-Go model making breakfast accessible to 83,000 students!  More details are available from the Fox News report @ http://foxbaltimore.com/news/local/mobile-carts-with-easy-pre-packaged-foods-in-city-schools-will-encourage-students-to 

This kind of systemic change helps even the playing fields for children who suffer the most from the inequality that still divides us. It’s just one of many steps needed to make Monday morning like every other morning of the week.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

USDA reports "lowest figures on record for food insecurity among children"

            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.


Three links you will find of interest:



-          USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s’ statement @ http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2016/09/0189.xml&contentidonly=true


-          The executive summary of the USDA report @ http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/2137657/err215_summary.pdf

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

When the Geese Fly South and the Work Begins Anew

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.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Bill Gates, poverty, schools, race, and No Kid Hungry

            I thought I’d improve on my blog posts by sharing one from Bill Gates instead.  Last week he wrote about “a powerful conversation on schools, poverty and race” https://www.gatesnotes.com/Education/A-Powerful-Conversation-with-Nate-Bowling

            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 prison-industrial complex.” 

Ultimately 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.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Postcard from where the economic recovery never happened

            There’s an important new study of which you should be aware. http://tinyurl.com/zqec5bl 

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. 

            The 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 materially.)

            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 in 1989.

            Imagine 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.

            Even 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.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Second Greatest Danger of Campaign 2016

The greatest 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 another.

What mandate 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 two.

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 accomplish.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The fleeting possibility of political unity on behalf of our nations kids

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 follow.

            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….

Monday, August 1, 2016

Presidential politics and nonprofit "rules for relevance"

      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”:
n  We 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.
n  We 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.
n  We 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 else.
n  We must demonstrate the return on investment to society tomorrow from interventions we make today.
n  We 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. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Bearing Witness in Appalachia: Unseen America

     Below you’ll find a piece written by one of my colleagues in the best tradition of bearing witness. Elizabeth Sell and her team have been visiting South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee to better understand poverty and hunger and how our work, especially summer meals sites, addresses it.
     With so much attention these past two weeks on the presidential nominating conventions, Elizabeth’s reflections underscore the stakes for so many struggling children and families. If our political leaders saw from their podiums what we see on the ground and in the field, the national conversation would sound very different. The need for action on behalf of our children would take on greater urgency.  Elizabeth’s letter follows:

From: Sell, Elizabeth
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2016 10:55 AM
To: All Staff

Hi Everyone,
I wanted to share some impressions from my recent trip to our summer meals pilot project in Sneedville, TN.
If you find yourself in Sneedville, it’s because you live there, or you’re lost. Tucked in a valley in the Appalachian Mountains, reaching this small town in eastern Tennessee from any direction requires negotiating a series of hair pin turns up and down mountains. There’s no interstate nearby, the closest major town is about an hour away. Only about 6,000 people call this isolated community home.
I was in Sneedville because No Kid Hungry was conducting a summer meals pilot to test the best way to operate a “meals on wheels” style delivery model. We worked with our campaign partner in Tennessee, and a local church group to arrange a delivery system that drops off summer meals for kids either at their homes, or at drop-off points where families can pick-up the food and take it home. Shaina, an Americorps member and native of Sneedville was my guide. She patiently allowed me to tag along with a videographer, interviewing families as she dropped off food for their kids. Shaina’s four-hour route takes her all over this valley ­­-- up mountains, down dirt roads that are nearly impassable during heavy rains, and across some of the most beautiful, pristine country side you’ll ever see.
It was lucky I was with Shaina. Many families refused to let us film the food delivery, I can only speculate that they were both distrustful of outsiders and didn’t want to bring attention to themselves. There are still people in this community that don’t have indoor plumbing. Others lived in homes so dilapidated that front doors don’t shut properly, windows were missing glass, a well-placed boulder acts as a step up to the door instead of a deck or stairs. Many of these homes were surrounded by pieces of the family’s past, broken down cars and televisions, rusting farm equipment. Most of the area isn’t serviced by a trash pick-up, people have to bring their refuse to the local dump. It takes a car to get your trash to the dump, and money to buy gas for that car, so many people opt to let their trash build up outside in piles or in metal cans until there’s enough to burn.
Five days a week, Shaina loads up her SUV with a breakfast and a lunch for every child on her route. Faith and Natalia are one of her first stops. Faith is in her mid-twenties, but her life has already been destroyed by drugs. It was fitting that my last day in Sneedville was the same day Congress passed legislation to combat the opioid crisis in this country. Every single one of the families I met had been affected by the destructive forces of addiction. Faith’s first two kids were taken away by the state. Her daughter Natalia is just about a year old. Faith is pregnant again. She’s clean now, and living with two other women in a tiny, one-bedroom house at the end of a long dirt road. It’s tidy and orderly inside, but blankets cover the ripped plastic in the windows where the glass should be, you can’t help but wonder what will happen to them when it gets cold. Natalia is starting to eat solid foods and the apple sauce and cereals that come in the meal delivery help Faith save a bit her SNAP dollars. The women that live in the house all pool their food together to make it last a bit longer.
Sue never expected to be a mom for a second time. When her daughter’s life crumbled under the weight of addiction, it forever changed Sue’s life too. Her one-bedroom trailer isn’t meant for three people, but Sue and her two grandchildren make do. Patrick and Scarlett share a bed in the bedroom, Sue sleeps on a recliner. They live about 5 miles from the town’s only grocery store and don’t have a car. They’ve never been to a summer meals site because the kids have no way of getting there. People drive fast on the country roads, and Sue worries about people high on drugs hitting the kids if they walked or took bikes, but that’s a moot point since they don’t have bikes anyway. Sue skips meals sometimes to make sure the kids eat, when I ask her about it she just brushes it off. “I’m old, I don’t need much to eat anyhow.” Sue is always laughing, Scarlett and Patrick inherited that from her. And, they’re both honor roll students, clearly whip smart. Scarlett pulls me down to her level and then tells me that if I want to call her Charlotte I can, and then nearly falls over laughing at her own joke.

Chloe is delighted when we get to her house. She’s only five, but she loves people. We saw a snakeskin she found in the woods, we were introduced to all her dogs and cats. She insisted that I take her picture from many different angles. Louise is another grandmother that found herself entering a second round of motherhood. Her son struggles with addiction, he left Chloe and her baby brother Noah to be raised by Louise and her husband. Their cabin is nestled in a quiet meadow. It emerges like a bastion of comfortable, intentional solitude when you come upon it after a drive through the woods and up and down several steep mountain sides. Louise laughs when I ask if she’d bring Chloe to a summer meals site in the future, they only drive when it’s absolutely necessary. Gas costs money.

 The program we’re piloting in Sneedville is doing exactly what it set out to do, it’s reaching kids in hard to reach places. This pilot has fed just a few of the children that rank among the millions missing out on summer meals programs because of the inefficiencies of the current program. If it doesn’t exist next year, those kids will continue to miss out. Transportation barriers are too immense to get them to summer meals programs.
The heartbreaking truth is that there are little kids just like Scarlett, Chloe and Patrick all over this nation, and they’re waiting for help. The way the current summer meals program is structured, however, we simply can’t reach them. That’s not good enough. It’s critical that we urge Congress to stand up for these kids. We need policies that let programs like the one in Sneedville become more than a pilot. We need policies that encourage innovation. But until Congress passes new summer meals legislation, help is not on the way for the millions of kids who struggle with summer hunger. Hungry kids can’t wait – join us in asking Congress to take action. Now.