Friday, September 24, 2010

Child Nutrition Reauthorization: The Perfect and the Good

This morning I re-read the last chapter of Jonathan Alter’s book The Promise, about Obama’s first year in office. It is the story of how health care finally passed, and the struggle the White House had with the deeply disappointed liberal wing of the Democratic Party which wanted to include provisions like the public option and other measures which the White House philosophically supported but believed would have made the bill impossible to pass.

Though the health care battle was bigger in scope in every way, Alter’s account of the negotiations between the various advocacy groups and the White House and Congress reads exactly like what we’ve seen with the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (reflected in today’s New York Times story @

The title of Alter’s chapter is The Perfect and The Good.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sounds of Silence Greet Shocking New Poverty Statistics

Here's a philosophical variation of the "if a tree falls in a forest" question for you: if 44 million Americans fall below the poverty line, and no one hears it, do they make any sound?

Over the weekend the Washington Post published an article about how little reaction had been expressed over the shocking new statistics showing that 44 million Americans now live in poverty. One in five children are so classified. It is a level of economic suffering unseen in nearly 50 years. Yet it has been greeted mostly with silence from policymakers in both the Administration and Congress. Is anyone calling for bipartisan summit meetings like when the banks were in trouble? Emergency sessions of Congress or the Council of Economic Advisers? Don't hold your breath.

Read entire post on Huffington Post @

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Layer of Vulnerability That is Almost Irrevocable

I had coffee yesterday with George Jones, the executive director of Bread For the City (to which Share Our Strength last year made a grant from the Weight Watchers Lose for Good campaign).

George told me that Bread For the City serves 5000 families a year and that their average income is $7000. 25% are families with children, and in many cases the children are living with a head of household who is elderly or disabled. Of the numerous services Bread provides – food, medical, legal, clothing, and social services – food is by far the largest and is utilized by virtually all 5000 families. Next to Catholic Charities, Bread For the City is the largest such service provider in DC.

“What people don’t get”, George told me, “is that there is a layer of vulnerability in this community that in many ways is almost irrevocable. Many of these families have members who are disabled in dramatic ways. We help them and their kids get benefits – some wouldn’t get benefits at all without our help – but the benefits are not enough. People keep asking how we lift our clients out of poverty. But for many of them that is just not going to happen. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make their lives better.”

I try to touch base regularly with George, who has led Bread For the City for 15 years, because he works at the community and street level and sees and serves those families and kids who are most vulnerable and who fall between the cracks and don’t fit neatly into most organizations’ strategic plans. I don’t see our grants to Bread For the City as something separate from or in addition to our childhood hunger strategy but rather as an integral part of a balanced and holistic child hunger strategy that goes beyond the easy victories to reach all of the children it would be necessary to reach to actually end childhood hunger.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Our fragile and interdependent political ecosystem

One advantage of spending part of the summer in Maine is that you not only learn but actually live the interconnectedness of all parts of the ecosystem. A storm in Cape Cod, more than 100 miles to the south, leaves huge deposits of seaweed in front of our Goose Rocks Beach home and sometimes reshapes the beach entirely. The seaweed attracts flies, shorebirds, and an entire new population of creatures to our doorstep. When one of those species becomes endangered, such as the piping plovers and least terns, the entire ecosystem is put at risk. The menu on the local restaurant chalk board depends on what the fisherman down the street caught that day, and that depends on weather, wind, tides and the health of the marshes.

Accustomed to the notion that our environment is fragile and interconnected this way, we are careful about even the smallest environmental impacts. But we sometimes seem less conscious that our political ecosystem is just as sensitive and interdependent. Though the immediate consequences may not be as readily visible, they are just as real. A change in committee chairs can shift the entire legislative agenda of the House or Senate. One agri-business lobbyist can revise “offsets” in the child nutrition reauthorization and affect future levels of SNAP funding for children across the country, and for some not yet born. Ideas matter. So do elections, even in states far from where we live. So does the ability to organize, advocate and persuade. And to engage average citizens in campaigns like No Kid Hungry.  At Share Our Strength we will need to deploy every asset and skill we have these next few months and in a way that integrates all into one strategic whole.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"It is the Giant Hour"

"When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men and women we are. Cesar Chavez said this and I’ve been thinking about him since hearing the writer Peter Matthiessen speak about him last month at the Buddhist symposium in western Massachusetts where Jeff Bridges and I discussed No Kid Hungry. Matthiessen, author of The Snow Leopard, and now 83, knew and worked closely with Chavez through his leadership of the United Farm Workers, fasts, and grape boycotts. He spoke eloquently about his leadership qualities and we had a chance to talk after the session.

I’ve also been thinking about the quote above because how each of us use our lives, and more specifically how we use the next 100 days will determine much about Share Our Strength and childhood hunger. We are in for a 100 day sprint: The Great American Dine Out, Conference of Leaders, No Kid Hungry, expansion of Operation Frontline, new corporate partnerships.

Near summer’s end we took a ferry to Monhegan Island, 13 miles off Maine’s mid-coast. A mile long by half a mile wide, Monhegan rises dramatically out of the ocean. It is mostly a quiet artist colony with few shops, and no cars. On our hikes, Nate was obsessed with picking sea glass from the gravel that lines the paths. After every step he would bend over, search and scratch at the soil. Once, when I hurried him along, he looked up and said “Dad, Monhegan is not for rushing. It is for being together. That’s the priority here, that’s the whole reason everyone comes.” (It is not always restful having a five year old who reasons and speaks this way.)

In these next 100 days we will need to rush at times. But Nate’s fundamental point is valid too. Our priority must be to be present for and supportive of each other.

In a recent e-mail my colleague Chuck Scofield shared this excerpt from a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks:

"It is the giant-hour.

Nothing less than gianthood will do:

nothing less than mover, prover, shover, cover, lever, diver for giant tacklings, overturnings, new organic staring that will involve, that will involve us all."

Gwendolyn Brooks said in four lines what I tried to say in a page above. It is the giant hour. It will involve us all.