Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"Part of Loving Kids is Feeding Them"

           “I don’t give a damn about test scores” is not the ordinary thing for a school principal to say.  But Fabby Williams, of Northeast Guilford High in North Carolina is not your ordinary principal.  Williams, whose family came to the U.S. from Liberia in West Africa explained “I knew hunger. I lived through it.”

            Williams was on a panel yesterday at the No Kid Hungry conference at the University of North Carolina. A packed room of 250 educators, principals, superintendents, public health officials and activists came representing every corner of the state. 

Conference organizers placed a bowl in the center of each table surrounded by little stones so that when an attendee heard something they liked, they could drop a stone into the bowl to contribute to the community’s “stone soup”.

 Members of the panel described how “a lot of kids don’t eat anything else but at school.”  They told of breakfast-in-the-classroom driving participation from 150 to 700 children, and leading to more settled students and additional instructional time. Stones clang.  The state’s child nutrition services director told me afterward that one of the biggest challenges in education is finding more instructional time without adding to the length of the school day or school year.

Principal Williams, acknowledging resistance to change, said “I wasn’t going to ask permission to feed my kids. Part of loving kids is feeding them. I don’t give a damn about test scores. Feed the kids and the score will go up.” More stones clang.

Dr. Randall Williams, the state’s deputy secretary for health services used gapminder @ to show how advances in clean water, vaccines, and medicine improved life expectancy over the past hundred years. The biggest driver going forward will be nutrition, he asserted.  Again, the ping of dropped stones, not just the sound of stone soup being made, but the sound of a growing movement.

The conference underscored the enormous opportunity to gather data and tell the story about the “instructional time dividend” created by breakfast-after-the bell. This is what will enable us to reach beyond the passionate but still too small community of those who care about hungry kids, to the much larger constituency of parents, educators and business leaders focused on improving schools to make America stronger and more competitive.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

President Obama Goes Big in Budget to Fight Hunger and Poverty

Last night when I bumped into Share Our Strength board member Bob Greenstein at a Connecticut Avenue restaurant, he shared that “the President’s budget that gets released tomorrow has some great anti-poverty provisions in it.  $12 billion for summer EBT and a great homelessness initiative. It won’t go anywhere in this Congress, but it sets a marker that could be valuable in the future.” This morning President Obama sent to Capitol Hill that $4 trillion budget proposing to increase opportunity, decrease poverty, invest in infrastructure, and reduce the deficit.

It took President Obama until the last year of his last term to be this bold in his anti-hunger and anti-poverty policymaking. While the prospect of Congressional approval is remote, big new ideas are now on the table and will become part of the national conversation. Like a GPS that doesn’t guarantee you have the equipment or fuel necessary for your journey but at least shows how far you have to go, the President’s budget points us in a direction and enables us to measure our distance to the goal. It gives America something to aim for - and for America’s hungry children it gives new hope.

            That budget includes one of our top priorities – a fix for the summer meals program that currently fails to serve more than 80% of eligible low income kids. The president proposes $12 billion to provide low incomes kids with supplemental electronic benefits during the summer when school meals are not available.  It would commit $11 billion to eliminating homelessness among families with children, and $10 billion to expand the home visiting program that have given support to so many parents and families.

Bob Greenstein may have been understated about Congressional resistance. The chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees, in a break from tradition, announced that they would not even invite the president’s budget director to testify before their panels.  There is little or no chance that a Republican controlled Congress will give the President the budget he asks for.  But Bob’s more detailed analysis,@ explains why this budget proves “we can address key unmet national needs and substantially reduce deficits at the same time…. and includes a welcome focus on the most disadvantaged, offering proposals to increase opportunity and reduce poverty.”

Monday, February 8, 2016

Refugee Crisis: When Strategy and Humanitarian Impulse Go Hand In Hand

            For an organization as sharply focused as Share Our Strength is on our No Kid Hungry campaign in the U.S., one might ask if our recent grant of $100,000 to organizations dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis is “on strategy”. It certainly is. That’s because while our priority now and for the last 8 years has been our No Kid Hungry campaign, our mission is and always has been much broader than that: to address hunger and poverty in the U.S. and around the world.

            Even if that were not the case, there are times when humanitarian imperatives trump blind devotion to strategy.  Sometimes there are events so cataclysmic, unprecedented and unforeseen, that it won’t suffice for only the usual suspects to respond. Rather it will require all of us to extend ourselves beyond business as usual.  It is not “on strategy” for most of us to respond to such events as the Ethiopian famine, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and now the refugee crisis. But in each of these, Share Our Strength and many other Americans responded generously. In each case our staff and stakeholders expressed pride that we were willing to extend ourselves in such a way. 

            The New York Times on February 3 published a story called “The Migrant Crisis: No End in Sight” @   The figures are daunting:  67,000 migrants arrived in Europe in January of 2016 compared to 5,000 who made the journey in January of 2015.  The U.S. and European governments have pledged almost $5 billion and it is not enough.  Half a world away, the suffering is hard to imagine. But a few iconic photos move us nevertheless.

            One thing worse than being off strategy is being indifferent. Indifference undermines every aspect of one’s effectiveness.  It is as corrosive strategically as it is morally. In our case at Share Our Strength, there is no conflict between strategy and humanitarian impulse. Both were built into our founding. Both live on today. And both inspire and motivate our colleagues and supporters to aim even higher.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

True to our mission and roots, Share Our Strength grants $100,000 for children of Syrian refugee crisis

We recently announced that Share Our Strength will contribute to three organizations working to aid children and their families in the Syrian refugee crisis: Save the Children, the World Food Programme and Mercy Corps. These may seem like unusual grants for us, an organization working to end childhood hunger in the U.S., so I’m writing to share how they are important to our mission and history.
Since 2010, our priority has been to make sure every child in America has the healthy food they need, every day, through the No Kid Hungry campaign. It will continue to be our focus until the job is done.
Still, we’ve never forgotten our roots. Billy and I still clearly remember that day in 1984 when we felt compelled to act on behalf of people suffering from hunger and starvation oceans away in Ethiopia. We’ve stayed true our original mission through limited, strategic investments to build food security in some of the most vulnerable places in the world.
The scale of suffering of the refugees in Syria cries out for urgent and compassionate action. According to Save the Children, an estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes. The need for basic resources like food, water and shelter is overwhelming and organizations are challenged to keep pace with that need. Read what the New York Times had to say about the most severely impacted regions here.
Much like that day in 1984, and during the catastrophic events we’ve seen since, like Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti, we feel a duty to support children in crisis, wherever they are. Through contributions to these three well-respected organizations working in Syria, we seek to build on lessons from our domestic work and bring some measure of relief to these families.
I found Bono’s words particularly inspiring in response to this crisis, “Where you live should not determine whether you live or whether you die.”
Thanks for your ongoing support of Share Our Strength,
Debbie Shore
Co-Founder, Share Our Strength