Thursday, October 12, 2017

The "success paradox" and proving improvement is possible


Peggy Noonan’s recent Wall Street Journal column about the need for bipartisanship in health care policy, speaks to what we are witnessing and achieving in our own work:  “America is in trouble, with huge problems. The people are … desperate for a sense that improvement is actually possible.”  https://www.wsj.com/articles/partisanship-is-breaking-both-parties-1506640056

One of the most important things Share Our Strength is doing, in addition to relieving the terrible hardship suffered by hungry kids, is demonstrating, irrefutably, that improvement is actually possible.  Childhood hunger has been reduced by at least 30% since we began the No Kid Hungry campaign.  It is at its lowest level in many years.  Adding more than 3 million kids to school breakfast, high SNAP participation, low unemployment, and economic growth have all played a role. 

Last week the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities led by our board member Bob Greenstein reported that child poverty, now at 15.6 percent, is at a record low, half of what it was in 1967. And last month USDA reported that 17.5% of children (1 in 6) live in food insecure households, but only 8.8% of kids (less than 1 in 10) live in a household with at least one food insecure child. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/84973/err-237.pdf?v=42979

That the American people are “desperate for a sense that improvement is actually possible” underscores the need to emphatically embrace and promote the anti-hunger community’s success.  Organizations like ours often experience a “success paradox” feeling tension between dramatizing the severity of the problem, and showing progress that tells stakeholders the severity has been diminished and they are getting a great return on their investment.  However that is a false choice akin to a winning NFL football team feeling they have to keep the score close or the fans will stop coming to cheer. Just the opposite is the case. Fans cheer victory. Investors invest in success. Besides, the truth is that even though there has been great progress, significant and compelling need remains. 

At a time when our nation, battered by tragedy, divided politically, is desperate for good news, we have some: childhood hunger and child poverty rates are dropping, lives are being saved and changed.  And having proven that we can feed kids in record numbers, we earn the opportunity and responsibility to help prevent the next generation from being hungry in the first place. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Passion for Creating Community


             I especially like the podcast we are releasing today because it conveys the pure passion that two experts have for my favorite of all foods: bread! 

Mark Furstenburg is the James Beard award winning owner of Bread Furst on Connecticut Avenue (and before that, Marvelous Market)  His career spans working in John Kennedy’s administration on poverty issues – to feeding Washingtonians at his bakeries. He’s 78 years old, first turned to baking at 50 and opened Bread Furst at the age of 76. It is never too late!  Corby Kummer is a brilliant writer and restaurant critic who takes us behind the scenes for a fascinating look at how restaurant reviewers write their reviews.   As you will hear, their passion for food also translates into a passion for creating community.

You can find the podcast at http://addpassionandstir.com/the-disappearance-of-poor/  and as always, if you enjoy it, please share.
 

Billy

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Aligning Strategy to Values - from Houston to Syria


Dear Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Partners colleagues:

            I want to piggyback this brief note onto Chuck’s email yesterday (about our $50,000 grant to the Houston Food Bank in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's devastastion)  because I am so proud he and his team acted quickly in response to the need in Houston and because it was not only the right thing to do but also represents an often overlooked dimension of strategy.

            An event like Hurricane Harvey often poses a dilemma about whether we can respond without distracting or diverting ourselves from our strategy.  But that can be a false choice and a misunderstanding of where strategy’s power lies. Strategy should allocate and align an organization’s resources against its top priorities – in our case, our No Kid Hungry campaign.  But strategy should also reflect and reinforce the values of an organization and its team. Those two definitions can be at tension if you let them be, but for great organizations strategy is both. It always will be for us, and that’s why we responded and will continue to respond to the unfolding situation in Texas and Louisiana.
 
 

            Effective strategy can’t be formulaic. It must adapt to changing circumstances while remaining on course toward goal. And it must reflect and express the values of those implementing it – values of compassion, community and generosity.   So it is incumbent on each of us to not only stay focused on our priorities but to look up from what we are doing and connect it to what is going on in the world.

We’ve had an incredibly positive response to our grant to the Houston Food Bank from some of our most valued stakeholders.  And it comes shortly after grants we made to Save The Children and others to save lives in Syria and Somalia and deliver school meals in Haiti.  Such grants are only a small fraction of our budget, but a large part of the values we embody.  That makes them strategic too.

Billy

Sunday, August 13, 2017

a letter to my colleagues about Charlottesville


Dear Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Partners colleagues:

            When I went to Charlottesville for Share Our Strength at the end of April, having lunch outdoors on the pedestrian mall dotted with bookstores, restaurants and shops, I couldn’t help but think how civilized and gentle a community it was. It will be again someday soon but in the near term our memory of it will be marred by the ugliness we witnessed Saturday.

Our work at Share Our Strength focuses on ensuring that kids grow up healthy, strong and ready and able to contribute to society.  Implicit in that is that the society they will be joining is worth getting them ready for in the first place. When racism, bigotry, hate and discrimination encroach on that society, the focus of our efforts must expand to address it. Otherwise, really, what’s the point?

It doesn’t erode our commitment to nonpartisanship and bipartisanship to assert that the President’s failure to condemn racism for what it is, is a deeply disappointing affront to every American who loves our country and the values it represents. Thankfully many Republican and Democratic leaders were united yesterday in their explicit denunciation of the white supremacists who converged on Charlottesville and who in no way represent the good people who live there.

In circumstances like these, the question is always “what can I do?” My friend Jonathan Greenblatt, who led the Social Innovation Fund in the Obama White House and is now CEO of the Anti-Defamation League has made a number of suggestions over the past 24 hours about what government officials should do, but has also written: “We should not wait for government: businesses and nonprofits, CEO’s, clergy and citizens.  It’s up to all of us to take a stand against hate. You can tweet, march, donate, mobilize, vote. Action can take many forms,. It isn’t bounded by politics. Only limit is your creativity. Ultimately this is not about political resistance. It’s about moral renewal and recommitting to the American idea.” You can follow him at @JGreenblattADL 

My only advice for now: don’t be silent.

Billy

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When All Else Fails, Give Bipartisanship A Try


The collapse of the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obama care has led to speculation in many quarters that as a last resort Congress might give bipartisanship another try. Many consider that wishful thinking if not hopelessly naive. But Share Our Strength’s experience with it’s No Kid Hungry campaign suggests that there are times when such bipartisanship can not only work but produce concrete results that measurably improve lives.
 

            Granted that feeding hungry kids is more popular and less complicated than tackling health care. But it’s still dependent on legislation, government funding, and the commitment of state and local officials to executive efficiently and effectively.  For the past 10 years we have won the support of Democrats and Republicans alike making arguments that have bipartisan appeal:

-          That childhood hunger is a solvable problem

-          That children are the most vulnerable and least responsible for the situation they are in

-          That the return on investing in children pays dividends and saves taxpayers money in the long run.

Most important of all, we have resisted the temptation to attack those with whom we disagree. And the battles we’ve fought have been for the purpose of feeding kids, not for the purpose of strengthening our own political prospects.

As I said, that can sound na├»ve in today’s political culture. But the results speak for themselves: 3 million kids added to the school breakfast program, a majority of eligible kids participating in school meals rather than a minority, and childhood hunger at its lowest level in more than a decade.

It’s a sad commentary that in the health care debate, bipartisanship is considered only as a last resort. But at this point there is no other option.  And as we’ve seen in the effort to achieve No Kid Hungry, that can a be a good thing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"The promise of more sacrifice instead of more security" - remembering a more inspiring politics


            This Saturday, July 15, is the 57th anniversary of John Kennedy’s speech at the convention in Los Angeles accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for president. That must seem like ancient history, but one paragraph still points the way to the future both for our nation, and for Share Our Strength, given our bedrock belief that people want to be challenged to give of themselves.

 

            The paragraph is worth recalling because of how courageously different it is from virtually any other  political leader who has followed. Four months before his Inauguration Day call to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, candidate Kennedy foreshadowed that message with this passage:  “The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises--it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook--it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.”   http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25966

Most political consultants working today, Democrat or Republican, would consider that heresy bordering on political malpractice. Campaign speeches promise tax cuts, entitlement programs, small business incentives, more benefits for the middle class.  “The promise of more sacrifice.”?  Have you ever heard such a thing?

            More than half a century later, it takes a nearly cosmic leap of imagination to envision such sentiment in our political culture. But this belief in the capacity of our neighbors and fellow citizens to give of themselves remains alive in the DNA of Share Our Strength and goes to the heart of what’s made us successful – challenging people to share their strength, and as we’ve seen most recently via Chefs Cycle, the greater the challenge the better.  

            Deep down most of us know that what Kennedy said was right and necessary then, and now. There are no easy answers. No solutions that can succeed without more from us. Whatever you believe about the size and role of government, citizen engagement, in a democracy like ours, is essential to make it work.

You can read JFK’s words at the link above, or watch and listen @ https://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/AS08q5oYz0SFUZg9uOi4iw.aspx  They need no further interpretation from me. But I do have an accompanying plea: that you incorporate the spirit of asking more of yourself, each other, and all to whom we reach out, of setting the bar higher, into all that we do.

Friday, June 23, 2017

When Both Parties Put Party Loyalty Ahead of What's Best For Kids


There are many lens through which to view and judge the health care legislation unveiled in the Senate yesterday and now working its way through Congress.

For example, Jared Bernstein, who works with our board member Bob Greenstein at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities writes in the Washington Post: “please don’t lose sight of what’s going on here: a massive transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars that are now being used to help vulnerable families and moderate-income households to the wealthiest households. The Senate bill solves the problem that the poor in America have too much, and the rich have too little. In fact, it solves that problem even better than the House did. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/06/22/the-senate-health-care-bill-is-even-worse-than-the-houses-version/?utm_term=.ae2411601c5b

            But the most important lens for our purposes is the impact on children. For a better understanding of that, take a look at this statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics.   "The bill fails children by dismantling the Medicaid program, capping its funding, ending its expansion and allowing its benefits to be scaled back. The bill fails all children by leaving more families uninsured, or without insurance they can afford or that meets their basic needs. This bill fails children living in or near poverty, children in foster care and children with complex health care needs whose parents have private insurance – all of these children depend on Medicaid, and if this bill passes, Medicaid will no longer be there for them.https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/SenateHealthCareBill.aspx 

            It’s hard to believe that both parties put party loyalty so far ahead of what’s best for kids – that out of 100 Senators there aren’t even five or ten who could cross the aisle to work with each other on a less draconian, more compassionate alternative.  I hope that when we succeed in ending childhood hunger, we are in a position to teach them what bipartisanship can do.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

From a Disturbed and Disturbing Nation's Capital


Last night I spent a rare evening in our DC apartment, since Roe and Nate are arriving from Boston this afternoon for a long weekend.  Sirens blare often, a Connecticut Avenue constant, and no more or less than usual, but I couldn’t help wondering if instead of a motorcade or a fire, there was something else going on akin to the morning’s horrific story about a madman hunting Congressmen with a rifle and forever changing half a dozen lives if not the culture of our capital.

            There’s been much commentary over the past 24 hours about political adversaries coming together in sorrow and in unity - from the well of the House chamber to the hallways of the Medstar Washington Hospital Center. An aspect of that is undeniably heartwarming and encouraging.  But it’s tethered to a deeper sadness that this is the best we can do – that this is what it takes to remind a diverse group of basically good human beings to act human.  Still, after years of relentless political warfare, even the briefest of respites is welcome.  Especially if it creates some muscle memory so that in the days ahead there’s a reflex to put caring ahead of accusing, kindness ahead of counting votes.

            By late in the evening some of the usual cable news combatants were already retreating to their corners, tentatively testing whether the appetite had returned for using the day’s events to taint their adversaries. But it was only some – and that’s progress.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Ride of a Lifetime: Chefs Cycle 2017


 


            Chefs Cycle 2017 was bigger in every way than before: more riders (230), more money (close to $2 million), more hills (13,000 feet of climbing), more personal fulfillment, more high performance from our colleagues at Share Our Strength.

            When we arrived in Santa Rosa, the Flamingo Hotel had been transformed into Chefs Cycle headquarters with riders as anxious about meeting up with their shipped bikes as you might be waiting to meet your date on Match.com.  300 miles lay ahead and hills so long and steep that many accomplished local cyclists never ride them.

            We rode out the first morning with flashing red and blue lights of local motorcycle police and California High Patrol leapfrogging each other to control intersections and ensure a safe rollout. Riders quickly self-sorted by skill and speed into groups that would last the next three days: Experienced riders in sleek peloton lines of 8-10 or more. The rest of us struggled and straggled in squads of two, three, or four, often riding alone and silently for long stretches.
 

            Strong riders finished by noon and were showered, changed and finished with lunch as others rolled in between 1:00 and 3:00 or later. Duff Goldman was on his bike for 11 hours one day. Boston chef Andy Husband’s for nearly 10 hours the next.  At the finish Andy’s wife asked if she could take his bike for him and he said “yeah, throw it in the pool.” 

            On Day Three the last hill was just four miles from the end of the ride but the hardest climb of all.  Tom Nelson got to the top ahead of me. When I arrived he was off his bike and sitting on the curb, staring straight ahead.  I laid my bike down and sat next to him.  Several minutes went by in silence. We glanced at each other and shook our heads as if to say please don’t say a word or expect any. We got up and rode on.
 

            Each night chef Travis Flood, after riding 100 miles, cooked dinner for everyone. Driving up I-5 the night before the ride, a gust of wind tipped over the trailer carrying his equipment.  He lost everything.   Jason Roberts, Mary Sue Milliken, and others said “ let’s share our strength” and called vendors, suppliers and others to replace what Travis lost. Standing next to his makeshift cinderblock grill in the hotel parking lot, Travis told me “I came from a divorced family and so memories of Christmas, Thanksgiving and other traditions just represent stress to me. I still don’t look forward to them. What I look forward to all year are these three days – being with this family.”
 

            Alecia Moore Hart, who we know as the singer P!NK, rode the third day along with her husband Carey Hart. She told me during a podcast session that she was struck by something else Travis had told her: “Riding is painful, but we get to get off the bike. Hungry kids don’t get to quit being hungry.” 

            Of many lessons learned, my top three take-aways:
1.      In a nation so politically divided, the desire for community, to share one’s strengths in ways that make you part of something larger than yourself, is greater than ever. Chefs Cycle not only raises money and feeds kids, it builds that community.  Many riders, no matter how successful in their careers, miss that and spoke about it.
2.      Small advances, relentlessly pursued, yield big results.  Last year a rider taught me to conquer steep climbs by thinking, “if I can just pedal to the next tree, then pedal to the next telephone pole, then the next crack in the side walk … eventually …”  The same is true for our No Kid Hungry campaign. If we can get breakfast participation to 60%, and then 64%, and then … we eventually reach goal.  A corollary: little gestures can have large impact. Many riders told of struggling up a hill, about to quit, and then feeling a hand on the small of their back, from another stronger rider who pulled alongside, more encouragement than push, but enough to do the trick.
3.      Mental toughness and determination prevail over the most formidable obstacles. Riders whose bikes, training and physical condition should have left them with little chance of getting up hills passed riders in better shape who got off their bikes and walked.

For 48 hours after the ride, everyone was still comparing notes about hills, triumphs or meltdown stories, making suggestions about what could be done differently next year.  As we were getting ready to leave the hotel the next day, Travis Flood was returning from Home Depot in his pickup truck with asphalt and a blow torch. Nate and I went over to see what was up and help. The cinderblock grill used to prepare dinners for so many of us, had sunk into the asphalt and left a pothole in the parking lot. Though Travis had done so much already, he felt accountable for fixing that too. A sense of community will do that to you.

 
 
    It's never too late to support Chefs Cycle or one of the riders. See @ http://chefscycle.org/  Thanks!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Why The American Health Care Act Would Be Devastating for Children


The American Health Care Act passed by the House last week would be devastating for children in this nation.

At its core, this legislation would make it harder and more expensive for low-income families to get the care they need. Our No Kid Hungry work focuses on ensuring that children get the food they need to grow up strong; the projected impact of the House action profoundly undermines this work. Feedings kids improves their health and educational potential, but cutting their access to treatment for ailments like asthma, ear infections, obesity, dental needs or diabetes is like putting gas in a car but denying access to the mechanics and garages necessary to keep it running.

We also know that millions of parents in this nation are struggling financially, forced to make unthinkable tradeoffs each month between medicine or rent, paying the electricity bill or buying enough groceries. Making it harder for these families to afford health care, either preventative or in case of serious illnesses, will put more families in jeopardy, making them sicker, hungrier, and less secure.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We will fight against policies that hurt children and support policies that give them a more level playing field, making sure they get the basic food, care and skills they desperately need. These are our values, and Congress must reject this legislation.

Worth reading: two opinion pieces with analysis of the impact of last week’s effort to end the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.  The first by our longtime friend and ally Dr. Irwin Redliner, CEO of the Children’s Health Fund focuses on the impact on children whose health care coverage is threatened by the House action.   https://tinyurl.com/kfp9nbo
The second by our board colleague Bob Greenstein asserts “I have been in Washington, D.C. for 45 years.  But I have never seen members of Congress vote to so deeply hurt so many of their own constituents.  If enacted, this bill will stand as the biggest assault on ordinary Americans — and the largest Robin-Hood-in-reverse transfer of income up the income scale, from low- and middle-income families to those at the top — in our country’s modern history. http://www.cbpp.org/press/statements/greenstein-house-votes-to-take-health-care-coverage-away-from-millions-and-make-it


 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What’s Different About This Picture?


               If a picture is worth a thousand words this one is yet another example of how Share Our Strength has and continues to transform the restaurant industry and larger culinary world in the service of our No Kid Hungry campaign.
             

  I took the photo Saturday night in the kitchen of one of our favorite restaurants called Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, Maine.  Chef Justin Walker will be riding Chefs Cycle this year for the third time. He opened his restaurant Saturday, a few weeks before the season begins, for this special event to raise money for his ride.  It was completely sold out and earlier in the day we saw his wife Danielle in town driving a pick-up truck around town picking up extra chairs so they could squeeze in a few more guests.

            “I spend so much time on my bike because I know it is helping to feed more kids,” Justin told the guests. Maine’s long frigid winters mean a short training season for the May 16-18 ride in California. So Justin keeps two bikes and a trainer in the kitchen on which he can mount his bike while supervising his team and sometimes even prepping food himself. A Chef Cycle rider’s gotta do what a Chefs Cycle rider’s gotta do.

            Justin will be one of nearly 250 chefs riding this May in Santa Rosa.  Next year there will no doubt be closer to 400 riders.  Already Chefs Cycle has attracted thousands of new first-time donors.  Bringing a larger audience to our work is one of our key strategic imperatives. It’s the way movements grow, pictures change, and social progress advances.  Not always as quickly as we’d like, but as unmistakably as a kitchen that once contained pots, pans, sinks, trays and now houses a couple of world class road bikes.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Back In The Saddle Again


           I’m training for my third annual 300 mile Chefs Cycle bike ride of the last three years – joined by more than 250 other riders this time.
 
            This year’s ride, from May 16-18,  aims to raise $2 million for our No Kid Hungry campaign, compared to the $1 million raised last year.  Here’s why I hope you’ll consider supporting my ride:

It is a commitment that entails months of hard work and almost a year of anxiety. The first year I rode to show the flag and convince others that if I could do it, anyone could.  It was so much fun that I rode again last year.  But this year it is because the goal is such an important one for expanding our No Kid Hungry campaign. So it is all hands on deck, all legs peddling, even the old ones.  The $2 million raised will means millions more school breakfasts and summer meals, giving kids a better chance to succeed at school than they’ve had before. 

All of us are learning anew that we are capable or more than we imagined. It’s true for each rider, for our entire organization, and for you too.  The great thing is that the ride has taken on a life of its own with literally thousands of new first time donors and supporters committed to the success of our No Kid Hungry campaign. I’m more confident than ever that we will succeed.

Monday, March 13, 2017

From Fighting Against Hunger to Fighting For Social Justice


             The injustice of inequality has found its way into the culinary community. It’s probably been obvious to you for a while, but one thing that Add Passion and Stir enabled me to see more clearly is the dramatic evolution of the chef, restaurant and culinary community from helping to fight hunger to innovating in the fight for social justice. Many are going beyond charitable work to use their businesses to leverage systemic change on equity, justice, and sustainability matters. The range of issues they are involved in represents a dramatic shift with profound consequence both for the impact they can have, and for our need to keep up with their interests.

            Just look at the diverse examples:

n  Sarah Polon, Soupergirl, changing the world one bowl of soup at a time, through a locally sourced, plant-based business.

n  Mary Sue Milliken addressing “the broken food system”. 


n  Bill Telepan and Marc Murphy, advocating for healthier school means via Wellness in Schools,

n  Sam Polk, making healthy prepared foods affordable for all thru EveryTable

n  Jose Andres working with the UN Foundation to promote clean cookstoves to end the epidemic of disease killing women and children in Haiti 

            Today’s new generation of chefs  are about more than charity fundraising events. They are about advocacy, sustainability, policy and systemic change.. They are helping to feed America’s hungry kids, but are also going beyond that. They see food policy as a social justice issue. They are creating options for their customers to impact agriculture, supply chain, energy and the environment, and children’s health.
            For many, Share Our Strength and our No Kid Hungry campaign helped plant the seed. Shoots and leaves have sprouted in many different directions but all have blossomed toward the sun - and are still growing.

            All Add Passion and Stir episodes can be found at http://addpassionandstir.com/ and on iTunes @ https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/add-passion-and-stir/id1164624510?mt=2
 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Food Is The Glue Of The Society In Which We Live"


           We’ve just released the latest episode of Add Passion and Stir with Dr. Debbie Frank and chef Ming Tsai.  It’s rich in stories about how and where food has changed or saved a life.

 

One of my favorite passages, from Ming Tsai, evokes the wonder behind virtually everything we eat: “I love this book called Savor by Thich Nhat Hanh:  It’s about when you are eating an apple, don’t be texting, don’t be driving, don’t be watching TV, eat the apple, think about the apple, savor it. Where did it come from? How did it grow?  How did it get here? It got washed, it got put on a train, finally one farmer got you that apple. When you start thinking about the apple , when you start appreciating the actual apple, you eat more slowly, which is one of the biggest issues with obesity because you are full 20 minutes before your mind knows you’re full, and when you are full you stop eating, and you stop food waste.”

 

            Thich Nhat Hanh writes about many manifestations of mindfulness and I’m glad it’s made its way into our podcast – as greater mindfulness about food, hunger for it, and how food both satisfies and heals is an important element of achieving No Kid Hungry. The episode is @ http://addpassionandstir.com/preventing-disaster-babies-and-public-policies/

Billy

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Resisting Our Own Complacency and Complicity


With a new Executive Order forthcoming on immigration, I’m grateful to the American Academy of Pediatrics for speaking out on behalf of the most vulnerable children among us. https://tinyurl.com/jzeburx  

The Academy said: “Federal authorities must exercise caution to ensure that the emotional and physical stress children experience as they seek refuge in the United States is not exacerbated by the additional trauma of being separated from their siblings, parents or other relatives and caregivers. Proposals to separate children from their families as a tool of law enforcement to deter immigration are harsh and counterproductive.  We urge policymakers to always be mindful that these are vulnerable, scared children.”

It’s easy to imagine pediatricians staying focused on more immediate issues like health care, Medicaid, or even childhood hunger and nutrition. But fortunately they also see the connection between their work and the reckless immigration policy changes now underway.  Even though they are not an immigration advocacy organization per se, the American Academy of Pediatrics is willing to stick out their necks when too few others have.

For every service and advocacy nonprofit whose mission is to serve the underserved and the most vulnerable and voiceless, whether or not their organization focuses specifically on immigration, this is a great example of how to speak up and speak out in ways most relevant to the times in which we find ourselves. It would be even better if such organizations committed to expanding programming toward those being persecuted, and especially in “sanctuary cities” that are at risk of losing government funding as the price for their political and moral courage.

Most important of all is a commitment to backing up words with actions.  Blog posts and Facebook messages are not enough. The forces behind this inexcusable cruelty expect our complaints, but also expect we will soon return to business as usual. The most important thing of all to resist is our own complacency and unintended complicity.

 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Inexcusable Cruelty


The two stories below speak of inexcusable cruelty in the way our nation’s immigration and deportation policies are now being executed.  Our government’sa actions fly in the face of family values, safeguarding children, not to mention just and moral behavior.
 
 

Everyone has a moral obligation to speak up and speak out.  As Elie Wiesel cautioned: “Let us remember, that what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.”

I’m haunted by history’s lessons that suggest we will one day look back and ask how we remained silent and complacent in the face of such behavior.

Ron Charles is the editor of Book World in the Washington Post and on Twitter I thanked him for posting the L.A. story. He wrote me back:  “I can only pray that stories like this awaken people's conscience and enrich their affections.  Let's hope he’s right.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Young and younger, special needs and our special focus


Last Friday Rosemary, Debbie and I visited the Y2Y Shelter at Harvard Square - the only student run shelter in the country for young adults between 18-24 experiencing homelessness. In Boston that about 150 a night. It’s a cohort with special needs, unlikely to feel safe in an adult shelter. Y2Y has 30 beds, serves dinner and breakfast, and offers counseling to connect young people to social services. Boston has only one other facility for young adults, with 12 beds.

Founders Sam Goldstein, age 24 and Sarah Rosencranz, 25 gave us a tour while half a dozen Harvard students scrubbed bathrooms, cleared breakfast tables, and loaded a mountain of dirty laundry – bed sheets and towels - into 3 of the 4 working machines.  Some volunteer as much as 20 hours a week on top of a full course schedule. 

About 36% of the guests have previously been in the foster system. 32% have spent a night in jail.  Approximately 30% are LGTBQ who left home once they came out to their parents which today happens at a younger age than before. “Our goal is to help them break the cycle so they don’t become chronically, permanently homeless” says Sarah who explains that 89% of their guests say that they have a concrete plan out of homelessness after their stay at Y2Y.  See https://tinyurl.com/zcrx3yq

From there we went to record a podcast with chef Ming Tsai and Dr. Debbie Frank from the Grow Clinic at the Boston Medical Center. Dr Frank’s patients are mostly under two years of age. She says “public policy is written on the bodies of the babies I see … Some come in with rickets, from lack of vitamin D, which causes a bending and bowing of their legs.”   But not everything lends itself to an “eyeball diagnosis” Dr Frank tells us.  She described an 8 month old whose mother didn’t understand why he was failing to thrive. She’s been feeding him a cornmeal and sugar water mush and he wasn’t complaining but was getting sicker. “They were saving on food costs because they anticipated their landlord evicting them soon – not for failure to pay rent, but because of the need to make space for one of the landlord’s family members.”

Our morning and afternoon conversations had a common thread: the young – from college students to infants and toddlers -  are vulnerable in unique ways most don’t appreciate, and fail to adequately serve.  That’s why children have been our focus at Share Our Strength and why we need to be especially vigilant in the days ahead as those we serve could be impacted by potential changes to Medicaid, SNAP, and other policy shifts.

            (Also, because national security advisors are in the news this week, it’s worth noting that former President Bill Clinton’s national security advisor Anthony Lake who is now the Executive Director of UNICEF,  wrote an op-ed called Dark Days For Children about the tremendous suffering on the global scale that made 2016  “one of the worst years for children since World War II.”   He  underscores the need “to harness innovation to expand our capacity to reach children who are cut off from assistance in besieged areas or communities” https://tinyurl.com/gmknmb5 )

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

433,000 More Kids Getting Off to a Better Start Each Day


 “More low-income children than ever started their school day with a healthy breakfast in the 2015-16 school year" With this sentence, the Food Research and Action Committee’s annual breakfast scorecard released yesterday confirmed the historic progress that has been made over the past ten years, the period of time in which Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign’s number one priority has been expanding school breakfast to all kids who need it. For the full report, see @ http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/school-breakfast-scorecard-sy-2015-2016.pdf

            433,000 more children were getting school breakfast last year than the year before, increasing the national average from 44% in 2006 to 56% in 2015-16, a clear majority of eligible kids getting the food they need to succeed.

            433,000 kids, in your neighborhood and mine who are getting off to a better start each day. 433,000 kids making America stronger and more competitive thanks to government policies that enjoy bipartisan support and are both compassionate and pragmatic. 

            The progress described above did not come easily. Nor was it due to any one organization. Just the opposite.  Every time the larger anti-hunger community encountered an obstacle to kids getting breakfast, we worked together to knock it down. Thanks for the hard work and support that enabled our team to play such a meaningful role.

            Poverty and food insecurity are still way too high in America. But by virtually every measure childhood hunger is decreasing. Childhood hunger is a solvable problem and the new breakfast scorecard is evidence that public-private partnerships are solving it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Challenge of Prioritizing The Most Vulnerable Children of All


Every year the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University publishes basic facts about low income children in the U.S.  Their latest report shows that out of all age groups children are the most likely to live in poverty and that nearly 300,000 more children are living near poverty today than at the height of the great recession. http://nccpblog.tumblr.com/post/156627439877/americas-youngest-children-most-likely-to-live-in

Several facts stand out:

n  While 30% of adults have low incomes, more than 40% of all children live in low income families, Including 5.2 million infants and toddlers under 3

 

n  More than 60% of black, Hispanic and Native American kids live in low-income families compared to 30% of Asian and white children – a ration largely unchanged in recent years.

 

n  infants & toddlers under 3 are particularly vulnerable: 45% live in low-income families (approximately $48,000 or 200% of the federal poverty line), including 23%, (2.6 million kids), in families below the poverty line (approximately $24,000 for a family of four)

 

n  Food assistance, public health insurance and other programs have had a mitigating effect on poverty but in the U.S. kids have nearly a one in two chance of living on the brink of poverty

Outside of the small community of child poverty advocates, the annual report, like others of its ilk, gets little attention.  Such reports don’t constitute the “click bait” that drives websites and children don’t have expensive and well connected lobbyists or PR agencies to put their case in front of media influencers or elected officials.  Those of us who have a voice need to raise ours on their behalf.

One of the things that’s amazing to me is how little is done, publicly or privately, to prioritize the 2.6 million children under the age of three who are arguably the most vulnerable of all. Such prioritizing is easier said than done. Toddlers don’t live in isolation from older and also needy siblings or from parents whose needs must be addressed if they are to have a chance of effectively providing for their kids. Establishing priorities implies accountability for achieving them and that entails risk that may be uncomfortable. Still, these 2.6 million should become a priority for public institutions and private organizations. It’s a manageable number and a solvable problem and solving it would provide the greatest return on investment of nearly any other social challenge.  All of us need to better understand how we target and triage on behalf of those who are most vulnerable and voiceless of all, to move them from the back of the line to the front of our conscience and concern.

Monday, January 16, 2017

An MLK Day Story About Those Who Serve


We spent Saturday morning at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall where our friend Carolyn Casey kicks off a service project there every January for Martin Luther King Day. She brings in eighth grade students who have been selected as community service ambassadors from Boston’s 351 towns. They provide a powerful idealistic counterpoint to the cynicism and divisiveness that characterize our politics today. We take Nate just to expose him to it.  http://www.project351.com/

Carolyn’s brother Mike Casey was photographing the event from the balcony where we were seated and where Nate was snapping some pics too. He came over to say hello.  While chatting with Mike we mentioned that a neighbor of ours knew the widow of world famous photographer Yousuf Karsh and was hoping to introduce Nate to her. “Well she’s been my mentor and I drove her here today,” Mike said. “She’s sitting in the first row. Why don’t I introduce you all to her right now.”   

Estrellita Karsh, at 88, is the charmer I suspect she’s always been. She began by asking “You’re from the legendary Share Our Strength?” and of course she had me forever.  Rosemary had the presence of mind to invite her to our next Share Our Strength dinner in Boston and she immediately accepted.

Even if you don’t know or never heard of Yousuf Karsh, you are sure to recognize his iconic photos, a few of which I’ve attached here, including the portrait of Dr. King that explains Estrellita’s connection to Saturday’s event.
 
 
She's an elegant woman, with fashionable earrings under hair pulled back tight. She has a clear strong voice and organized mind. “Yousuf would have loved this crowd of young people out to change the world. The secret of his success was accepting people for who they were and capturing that. All this talk of tolerance today. Ugh. It’s not about tolerance. Think about that what means. It’s not enough to tolerate someone. They’re tolerable? It should be about acceptance.” 

 “Is the Churchill anecdote true?” I had to ask, and she immediately knew I was referring to the story of Karsh pulling Churchill’s cigar out of his mouth accounting for the iconic image of Churchill all but growling at the camera. “It certainly is,” she replied, going on to tell us the entire backstory of a 31 year old Karsh, hauling 200 lbs. of equipment to a room near Ottawa’s Parliament in 1941 and taking that famous portrait which Churchill’s handlers had not warned him about in advance.  
 
 

            “Yousuf made a career of taking pictures of people like these,” she said again looking around the room at the hundreds of young people heading out to serve. “People who were doing something positive in the world: Churchill, Martin Luther King, Einstein, John Kennedy.  They weren’t always great people, in terms of being nice, but they were doing important things for the world. He basically got to photograph the 20th century and I got to be along for a piece of that.”

            Several speakers at the event quoted Dr. King’s famous statement that “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” Estrellita Karsh was telling us the same thing.