It took climbing over a few plow-packed snow banks, and clearing a number of Secret Service checkpoints to get to the White House conference on childhood hunger at the Old Executive Office Building last week. But folks from all around the country managed to do so because it was the first such conference of its kind with the White House putting some weight behind a commitment made almost 8 years ago by candidate Obama to making ending childhood hunger a priority.
Such a White House convening on childhood hunger is a milestone for this Administration and for our No Kid Hungry campaign. The White House announced two ambitious efforts to significantly increase school meal participation and summer feeding. The President’s chief-of-staff Denis McDonough came to open the event, as a way of signifying the importance that POTUS attached to it. In his introduction of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, he mentioned the hardships that Vilsack had overcome, which is a subject Vilsack returned to at the very end of the speech.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who oversees all of the child nutrition programs, and is now President Obama’s longest serving cabinet member offered some personal context. He explained that he’d grown up the son of a mom who struggled with alcohol and prescription drug addiction. There were times where I was taking care of her and didn’t have a childhood. Vilsack said that one of the reasons he’d stayed in the job was “to make sure every kid in America has a childhood, knowing it’s pretty tough to have a childhood if you are hungry.” He then recalled his initial job interview with President-elect Obama.
Rep. Jim McGovern was the one Member of Congress in attendance. He’s been relentlessly pushing for a White House Conference since before Obama became president. But this convening, lacking the personal participation of the President, didn’t quite qualify. McGovern smiled and said: “It’s a first step”