Tuesday, December 12, 2017

With Social Safety Net At Risk, Nonprofits Have an Obligation to Speak Out Loud and Clear


Politico’s report on anticipated efforts to make deep cuts in the social safety net is must reading for all those who advocate on behalf of the vulnerable and voiceless.  https://www.politico.com/story/2017/12/11/trump-welfare-reform-safety-net-288623  Major social progress is at risk.  Childhood hunger for example has been reduced by 30%, to its lowest level in decades, but proposals to make it harder to access SNAP food stamp benefits could reverse that impressive progress.

At a minimum every social services nonprofit should be preparing and sharing an analysis of the impact that such actions would have on those they serve.  The contemplated legislative and regulatory changes are so sweeping that they could undo the hard-earned gains of many great nonprofits and social entrepreneurs.

Although opposition to such changes can be expected and will be essential. But it will not, by itself, be enough.  Advocates have to do more than say what they are against. They must also put forth a compelling vision of what they are for – and of how investments in children and families will improve our national health, education, and strengthen our economy.  

While nonprofit tax status precludes partisan activity, nothing precludes nonprofits from educating the public and policymakers alike as to how so-called “reforms” will impact those they serve.  Nonprofits that remain silent on these issues fail to meet their full responsibility.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Putting People Ahead of Party


The op-ed by two Republican and two Democratic governors in this morning’s New York Times is a great example of the difference between paralyzed policymaking in Washington D.C. and the ability of governors to rise above partisan dysfunction to get things done. ow.ly/jZTP30h5WSX  It is particularly important when on behalf of low-income kids who are the most vulnerable and voiceless of us all.  

The Children’s Health Insurance Program the governors are calling on Congress to extend is a life-saving source of health coverage for nearly 9 million poor children.  That it was allowed to expire in the first place is an inexplicable and shameful new low in the annals of Congressional inaction.
 
For the past decade, Share Our Strength has focused its energies on working with governors to enroll kids in federal nutrition programs like school breakfast and the summer meals. And governors of both parties, liberals, conservatives and moderates, in states like Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, Montana, Maryland, Missouri and others have risen to the occasion and put children first.  The results have been phenomenal contributing to a nearly 30 percent reduction in childhood hunger nationwide. 

Members of Congress are often preoccupied with institutional imperatives of attaining or maintaining their majority and the power and perks that come with it. They look to party leaders before deciding on a course of action.  But governors, while of course sensitive to political considerations, don’t reflexively put the needs of their party ahead of the needs of the citizens they represent.  Instead, they have an executive’s reflex for getting things done, rather than just scoring political points.  

If you want to find where American democracy still works, not perfectly but surprisingly often and well, look away from the nation’s capital and toward governors and other state and local leaders. Their progress is measurable, their leadership inspiring.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

News To Add Joy To Your Thanksgiving

            Wishing all of our friends and supporters the best for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, with gratitude for the historic achievements your support has made possible.

Childhood hunger is down by one-third since we began the No Kid Hungry campaign – more kids are getting the school meals they need than ever before – and we are well on our way to achieving our ambitious goal. At a time when Americans are desperate for evidence that our problems can be solved, we have forged the bipartisan public-private partnerships to solve this one. But still, too many kids in this country are struggling with hunger. I’m so grateful that we can count on you to help get us across the finish line.

            I hope you will take some joy this holiday season, as I do, from the words of 4th grade teacher Angela Homan who said of our signature program: “Breakfast After the Bell changed the environment of my classroom. My students begin their days ready to learn which is a dream come true for me.”  Or of single mom Heidi Alphen who said of our nutrition education efforts: “Cooking Matters gave me my confidence back when I was at the lowest point in my life. It encouraged me to go back to work in the food industry, which in turn provided myself and my family with so many opportunities. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for making a difference in my life.”

             Wishing you and your family all the best. Thanks again and have a happy and healthy holiday.

Monday, November 20, 2017

School Meals As Delicious as Thanksgiving


           Wishing you the best for the Thanksgiving holiday, and in anticipation of the delicious food we will all enjoy, sharing this hopeful experience regarding delicious school meals.

Earlier this month, Rosemary and I drove 15 minutes from our home in Boston’s Back Bay to the P J Kennedy Elementary School in East Boston near Logan Airport. Traditionally a community of immigrants – once home to John Kennedy’s paternal grandfather Patrick -  East Boston is now 50 percent Latin American, and the school 85%.

Jill Shah, a friend and neighbor of ours whose family foundation renovated kitchens in three East Boston Schools to pilot improved school meals for some of Boston’s poorest children, met us to give us a tour. Until recently, Boston school meals were made on Long Island and sent here from New York to be thawed and eaten. Jill’s vision was more old-fashioned – source healthy food locally and actually cook it for the kids.

            The school was built in 1933 and last renovated more than 50 years ago. All 302 K thru 5th grade students qualify for free or reduced price meals. Lunch is served in the basement where the new kitchen was designed by chefs Andy Husbands and Ken Oringer.  School chef Santiago, in chef whites and a Red Sox baseball cap, could not be prouder of the kitchen’s new combination oven/steamer, and especially the counter of freshly cooked food. From the minute we walked in, the wonderful smell made us hungry.

            Around noon, kids line up and point to what they’d like. A lunch lady arranges their choices on a tray.  Today it is broccoli, carrots, chicken, mac and cheese, apples and bananas. The kids sit at picnic style tables and eat quietly. “Notice the zen-like hum” says Jill. “Last year it was total chaos in here.”  Jill plans to expand the program to 30 Boston schools next year.  They will be renovated and retrofit over the summer.

            A first grade girl asks my name. Hers is Melissa and she is with her friend Kristin.  I ask what they like best. To my surprise it’s the broccoli and red peppers.  I walk over to the trash barrel on wheels and find almost no food tossed or wasted. Only empty cardboard trays.

The city estimated the renovation would cost $1 million.  The Shah Foundation did it for $65,000.  They threw in a new coat of paint. “This really didn’t cost much money” she says. “It was more about not taking no for an answer. There were tons of obstacles. A sink that didn’t meet regulations. The lack of a grease trap. I could go on and on. Some people stop at ‘no’. We didn’t. The idea was not just serve better meals but create a food culture here.”

Boston has the money for fresh and healthy school meals. What its students didn’t have was a voice. The Shah Family Foundation provided one. Good food matters. Share Our Strength chefs are as passionate about quality as access. Kids don’t just deserve food, they deserve healthy and delicious food. If the Shaw’s experiment in Boston catches on, our trip to the future maybe closer than we think.

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday. Come back determined not to take no for an answer.
 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

New Report Points American Politics Toward a New and Healing Path


Not to be missed among all of the analysis about yesterday’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey, is a new report on 2016 voter trends from the Center on American Progress  that suggests it might finally be politically profitable for political candidates to talk about , hunger, poverty and related issues that impact our most vulnerable and voiceless citizens. 
One conclusion of the report is about the opportunity to “go beyond the ‘identity politics’ versus ‘economic populism’ debate to create a genuine cross-racial, cross-class coalition that supports economic opportunity, good jobs, and decent social provisions for all people and makes specific steps to improve the conditions of people of color, many of whom continue to suffer from the legacy of historical and institutional racism.
            For decades, neither Democrats nor Republicans have had much of an appetite for talking about anything other than the middle class, which by all means needs to be expanded and strengthened. But the “cross-class coalition” referenced above goes beyond that, and if the report’s analysis gives future candidates for office the courage to really tackle inequality and social justice issues, it might point American politics toward a new and healing path.

Monday, November 6, 2017

#ThreeThingsWorthMoreThought this week


#ThreeThingsWorthMoreThought this week 

(1)  “Nothing we do inside the school building will stick in a child’s brain until their basic needs have been met.”  Pam Davis, principal of Highland View Elementary School in Bristol, Virginia, speaking at a Share Our Strength all-staff meeting on why breakfast after the bell is so important.

 
(2)  “Cooking Matters gave me my confidence back when I was at the lowest point in my life. It encouraged me to go back to work in the food industry, which in turn provided  myself and my family with so many opportunities. And it gave me a whole new outlook on healthy eating (newsflash: you don't have to be rich to eat nutritious foods!)” – Heidi Alphen letter circulated by Leigh Ann Edwards Hall

 
(3)  “Little more than nine months in, we’ve surrendered any expectation of honesty.” – NYT columnist Frank Bruni on White House Press office https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/opinion/sunday/sarah-huckabee-sanders-kelly.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Yes, Cooking matters!"

This is a slightly abridged version of an email we received from an amazing young mom working hard to make a better life for her kids. It made my day, week month.  It affirms that sharing strength can be the key to some of our most solvable problems.


Hello,


I wanted to reach out to thank you for your incredible program. A little more than 2 years ago I was living in a shelter with my young son, who is now 3. I have always loved to cook, but at that time in my life there were so many unknowns. I was broken and depressed. I was so fearful of my future that I couldn't take any joy in my day to day interests. And now, I had a baby to care for and nourish.

 
Then, the program I was living in brought in a Cooking Matters class for all the residents. Every week, we would talk about food and nutrition, shopping and budgeting, and the challenges faced by low income mothers to properly feed their families. Then, we would cook. Together. And eat, together. And laugh, together. What an incredible difference this program made in my life! I was building relationships with other women around me. I was sharing my passion for good food and cooking. At times I was even able to teach my peers from my own knowledge. I was able to find my passion again, and use it as a way to rebuild positive quality time with my family. 

 
Fast forward to two years later. My family and I have a wonderful home filled with love and laughter, and of course, home cooking. Not only have I built a better life for myself, my son, and his father (my fiance); but, through my own healing and rebuilding my life, I was able to provide a home for my two teenaged step children when their mother was no longer able to care for them.

 
How could I break the ice, and make them comfortable in my home? I cooked. I cooked family dinners. I took the kids to the grocery store with me. We ate together. I baked treats and comfort food. I cooked favorite dinners, and new foods that they hadn't tried before. I got them involved. I watched what they chose for snacks, and gradually added healthier options to the cabinets that would appeal to them.

 
And amazing things started to happen. My stepson, 17 at the time, would sit in the kitchen with me, and we would talk. Sometimes he would help, more often he wouldn't. But I was giving him an outlet to talk, just like I had when I attended Cooking Matters class. Then my stepdaughter, 19 at the time, who lost her sight at the age of 6, started asking about cooking. We started talking about technique and how-to's. We brainstormed a lot of ways that she could cook and what she could make. This was huge for me- because she is blind, she is very limited to what she can grab in the kitchen if no one is there to help.


And lastly, there's my littlest boy. I am certain that every mother struggles with getting their toddler to try new foods. I relied hard on the advice of the instructors from Cooking Matters. My son always comes to the market with me. We spend A LOT of time in the produce aisle, talking about colors and shapes, and choosing what to buy that week.


My purpose in writing this today is to proudly declare that yes, cooking matters! I'm certain that I would still be eating dinner every night whether I had taken a Cooking Matters course or not. But through this course, I learned so much more than just "how to.." Cooking Matters gave me my confidence back when I was at the lowest point in my life. It encouraged me to go back to work in the food industry, which in turn provided  myself and my family with so many opportunities. And it gave me a whole new outlook on healthy eating (newsflash: you don't have to be rich to eat nutritious foods!) 

 
So thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for this program, for the wonderful instructors, the fun cookbook, the exciting classes. Thank you for making a difference in my life.


Heidi Alphen
 
 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Have You Spoken Truth To Power?


“We must never regard as ‘normal’ the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals,” he said. “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country—the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve. … They are not normal.”
Arizona Senator Jeff Flake

 

It’s not often that Congress is associated with exceptional political courage and moral clarity. That’s one reason why the evening newscasts led with the “profile in courage” moment of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s speech on the Senate floor yesterday.

“Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” Flake said on the Senate floor. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength—because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.”

The speech was widely seen as a challenge to other Republicans to speak out against the excesses of the Trump White House. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/10/jeff-flake/543843/    But a political analysis of Flake’s speech is too narrow a lens. It is a challenge to all of us whether in the political arena, or in business, the nonprofit sector, philanthropy, the arts, or any other field.  One lesson of history that repeats over and over again it is that silence serves the powerful, but never the public interest. 

Have you spoken truth to power?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What it means to "get more political"?


             At our annual No Kid Hungry dinner in Boston last week a supporter who has attended many of our events, came up to me during the reception and said “I hope that in your remarks tonight you are going to get more political”.  Like many, he was exasperated by the dysfunction and divisiveness that prevail in our current national discourse.

            “Well thanks for giving me so much advance notice to think about it” I teased, knowing I probably wouldn’t deliver enough political red meat to satisfy his appetite.  As a nonprofit, Share Our Strength must remain nonpartisan. And that’s enabled us to get governors of both parties to enroll more kids in school meals programs.
 

But, the more I thought about my friend’s comment, the more I appreciated his plea. With so many fundamental American values and progressive policies under assault, a political response is warranted. But we can “get more political” without being partisan. Such politics, with a small “p”, means at least three things:

First, we make every effort to honor the philanthropic investments of generous supporters by ensuring that the efforts they invested in get to scale. That means educating politicians and policymakers about policies, like school meals and SNAP (food stamps) in our case, to do that.

Second, those who care about kids, and issues that affect them, must be their political proxy since kids can’t vote, lobby, or make campaign contributions. From school board to White House every election matters. Urging our stakeholders to be more involved – as volunteers, donors, on social media, etc. is essential to counter special interests that too often set the political agenda.

Third, we all have a role in demanding that our politics return to at least a modicum of civility. We can’t permit our leaders to demean others, tolerate racism, lie without consequence, or distract us from the real challenges at hand.

If politics means bashing a party or elected official with whom we disagree, then don’t look to us.  But, if getting more political means finding opportunities to engage people in their community, to help them to roll up their sleeves and share their strength, then yes we are getting more political. If getting more political means saying often and out loud that racism is wrong, that punishing the poor punishes all of us, that betraying the vulnerable and voiceless betrays those who fight to preserve our values of opportunity and equality, then yes, we are getting more political. 

In so doing we can not only end childhood hunger, we can prevent the next generation of kids from becoming hungry in the first place, and  ensure we have the strong kids needed for a strong America.

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