Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2016: Our forthcoming podcast on sharing your strength!

In recent years we have become a food obsessed culture, with chefs emerging as celebrities, cooking competitions dominating TV ratings, and restaurants becoming travel destinations in their own right. But as much as food has become a source of great pleasure and celebration, we are also learning more about how intertwined it is with our health, environment, educational achievement, sustainability, and quality of life. 

            In 2016 I’ll be launching a podcast based on a series of three-way conversations that explore the connections between food and so many other matters important to our lives.

Each of the conversations will include a social change agent and someone from the culinary world – a chef, restaurateur, or food entrepreneur -  and affords an opportunity to think in an even more expansive way about the role food plays in in social change. Why did Jose Andres end up working with the UN Foundation in Haiti?  Why is James Beard award nominee Bryan Voltaggio spending time not only in the kitchen but in elementary schools, and testifying before the state legislature?

Today, more than ever, the salad you eat, or the steak you carve, may have broader implications for your hometown or reaching halfway around the globe.  If you want to understand that better, if you want to do something about it, look for our forthcoming conversations.  

Recording With Mike McCurry and Seth Goldman

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris, the day after


Dear Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Partners colleagues

When we left the office Friday afternoon, wishing one another a good weekend, Paris was the way it had been for most of our lives, and almost even before we got home it was another, and will be for much of the rest of our lives. 

There are no words equal to what happened in Paris, but there are actions equal to it – actions of hope, commitment, faith, and love.  You commit such acts every day.  As heavy as my heart is for the people of France, it is heavy for you too because the Paris attacks were an assault on the idealism you embrace and embody, on the belief that doing good matters.  That belief today, in the face of inexplicable evil, is even more important than before.

As you know, restaurants were targeted for many of the attacks. 30 years ago Share Our Strength singled out restaurants as a new source of support for alleviating hunger, poverty and despair – places of joy where those engaged in the culinary community could contribute in a positive way, literally sharing their strength.  As our values are tested, threatened and challenged, the spirit of sharing strength – here at home and around the world -  will be called for again and again.

Shortly after the attacks, my dear friend Carolyn Casey sent me a 1968 speech given by Sargent Shriver, John Kennedy’s brother-in-law who ran the Peace Corps as well as the War on Poverty for President Johnson. @ http://tinyurl.com/q4bcgkx I found some solace his words:  “Peace is like war: If enough men want it, enough men can cause it. They can cause peace to happen in a leper ward in Asia, in a health center in Alabama, on a lonely island in Alaska, in the Bowery of New York. Each of us has the power to bring peace not only to the world, but to our hearts.  Is peace an impossible goal? A lot of people tell me it is. But I am reminded of what Unamuno (Spanish philosopher) once said: "Unless you strive after the impossible, the possible you achieve will be scarcely worth the effort.”


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

One Step Forward (Science), Two Steps Back (Politics)

Last weekend, the Financial Times published a column called “How To Invest in Babies” @  http://tinyurl.com/ocv76yo  It conveyed the excitement of discovering what others have long known: investing early in children, in the form of good nutrition, early education, language development, and a nurturing environment favorably impacts their brain development and well-being, and yields a great return.

The article references correlations between child development and family income. The bottom line, not surprisingly, is that rich kids fare better.

But the article misses a more important point: Advances in science and technology have made more information available to us than at any time in human history about the consequences of how we invest or fail to invest in young children, but we have a larger gap than ever before between what we know and what we do about it. That gap, our “full potential gap,” weakens America’s schools, health care, economy, competitiveness and national security.  

Magnetic resonance imaging, genome mapping, and sophisticated monitoring open windows into the chemistry and biology of child development that could not even be imagined a few years ago. For the first time we know about brain development at the cellular level, about nutrition, about the role of parents in the development of language, about the benefits of other forms of stimulation. 

Imagine the outrage that would exist in other areas of society if we failed to act on what we know.  If there were a cure for breast cancer but inertia stalled its delivery… if research about the safety value of seatbelts, air bags or bike helmets had been read and put aside. But because poor children are invisible to most of us and voiceless, we are less quick to act, if we act at all. The powerful economic interests that pervert campaign financing and shape the legislative agenda focus more on perpetuating inequality than on investing in kids. And so the gap grows.

When running for president in 1960, one of John Kennedy’s most powerful campaign lines was: “We are facing a gap on which we are gambling with our survival …” He was referring to our competition with the Soviet Union over deployment of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. The “missile gap” became a potent campaign issue. The same words are true today  applied to our full potential gap. We are facing a gap on which we are gambling with our survival…  Our politics need to catch up with our science if we are to ever close it.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

L.A. Success Story

             Share Our Strength's no Kid Hungry dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles on Wednesday night was a star-studded event with Jeff Bridges, Rachel Bilson, Darby Stanchfield, Blake Michaels and Sarah Hyland among others. It was a great financial success, thanks in part to so many celebrity chefs sharing their strength, Janet Hayes of Williams-Sonoma who we honored, and the generosity of  Jeff Skoll and Participant Media.

            With so much glitter under one roof, one could miss the real star of the evening: the L.A Unified School District which has achieved school breakfast participation of 102% of lunch participation, making it first in the nation. Congrats to the L.A. Fund for Public Education, California Food Policy Advocates, and the others who made this possible.  If the rest of California moved from the 54% average it is at today to our 70% guidepost we would add another 420,000 kids to school breakfast    

L.A.’s success is important for three reasons:

-          First and foremost, 270,000 kids in L.A. schools are starting their day with a breakfast that helps ensure they are ready to learn and will make them stronger, healthier, more attentive.

-          L.A.U.S.D. is a large and complex school system. If they can move to breakfast after the bell, so can any school system.

-          L.A. redefines what is possible, it not only sets the bar high, it lays the foundation for setting the next bar even higher.
Next week Share Our Strength will engage in discussions with California officials about a major expansion of our No Kid Hungry campaign.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tuesday's Democratic Presidential Debate - what they candidates say and don't say.

Because I was once deeply engaged in presidential politics – before there was a Trump Tower let alone a Trump campaign , events like the upcoming Democratic debate hold an abiding fascination for me (as have the Republican debates).  Add in that Hillary Clinton has been a Share Our Strength supporter and spoke at an Autumn Harvest Dinner, Martin O’Malley a No Kid Hungry champion and lifelong friend, and Jim Webb a traveling companion to Vietnam when I worked in the Senate to help normalize relations with Vietnam – and you can see why I’ll be tuning in Tuesday evening.

There will be plenty of opportunity to analyze what the candidates say. I’m even more interested in what they don’t say. Because with work like ours focusing on those who are economically and politically marginalized – one of the biggest challenges is getting politicians to even acknowledge such issues. 

Try to keep count of how many times the candidates say they’ll fight for the middle class.  Compare that to how much you hear about fighting for people living in poverty, for vulnerable and voiceless children, for the need for Americans to sacrifice, or make investments that won’t pay off until the long-term.   

Candidates don’t win many votes talking about such things.  But if they don’t talk about them, when they get elected they don’t have a mandate or perceived responsibility to act on them. And so the cycle continues.

There’s still a long way until the general election in November 2016.  As the impact of our No Kid Hungry campaign grows, as we increasingly demonstrate that childhood hunger is solvable, as we prove there can be bipartisanship on such issues, such encouraging news could help politicians not be afraid to talk about such things, and not be afraid to envision a better America.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Keynote at Texas Hunger Initiative Summit: Together at The Table, Baylor University

For those who kindly asked, some excerpts of my comments at the Texas Hunger Initiative Summit: Together at The Table, Baylor University, October 8, 2015, as best I could remember and capture them:

First, thank you Bill Ludwig for that introduction and thank you Jeremy Everett and the team at THI for inviting me to join you today. I’m inspired by your commitment, thrilled that we are partnering through the Social Innovation Fund, and eager to learn from your leadership.

I am deeply grateful to all of you for the work you do.  It means a lot because you have the ability to help us solve a very solvable problem, and impact many other issues we care about.  If we don’t seize that opportunity, the very real consequence is that we will be letting a lot of kids get hurt, kids right here in Texas, as well as around the U.S.  We end up robbing them of their health, educational opportunities, of their full potential, their future.  We end up stealing from children even though we are the last nation on earth that ought to be doing such a thing. I know that you and I share the conviction that America is better than that.  Hunger in America is a social justice issue

This is an extraordinary time.  For the first time in history we’ve had 45 million Americans living below the poverty line for three years in a row. We’ve crossed a threshold where a majority, 51% of public school students, now live in poverty. Kids in families with incomes under $25,000 have 6% smaller brain surface area than kids from upper income families.  That’s based on pure correlations of MRI brain scans and family income. That’s been documented by the best neuroscientists working in America today at Columbia University.  At a time when the world seems more dangerous than ever, 3 out of 4 17-24 year olds are not able to join the military.

But as Pope Francis said during his visit just a few days ago, speaking about refugees but applicable in this context as well:  “We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”  I’ve had that opportunity to see faces and hear the stories as I’ve traveled the country from one end to the other these past 12 months with the National Commission on Hunger established by Congress.

“God squeezes but he doesn’t choke you” said one elderly man when asked how he survives on only $800 a month.  Or as one immigrant in El Paso near our border with Mexico told me “There is light in our streets but darkness in our homes”  The food bank director from New Mexico explained that “we are no longer in the emergency food assistance business. We are feeding the same families 7-8 times a year, and so it is chronic hunger and chronic economic food insecurity.”

The good news is that hunger is a solvable problem. Why? Americans are not hungry for the reasons that people around the world are hungry. It is not war or famine or drought. We have food in abundance and food programs too. But not everyone is accessing them, especially kids. For example

22 million kids get a free or reduced price school lunch. All are eligible for breakfast and summer meals.  But only 11 million get breakfast and 3 million get summer. It has been bought and paid for for all of them. What a huge opportunity.  In NY, just a few months ago, the mayor and city council agreed to put $18 million in the budget to move 500 elementary schools to our breakfast in the classroom, or breakfast after the bell strategy. That adds 370,000 kids to school breakfast. 

This is typical of the results Share Our Strength is getting with its No Kid Hungry strategy.

-          We’ve helped bring about the greatest increase in participation in childhood hunger programs since the programs began


-          We have demonstrated a “school breakfast dividend” in terms of better math scores, better attendance (Deloitte study) and more instructional time (Virginia No Kid Hungry summit.)


-          We have authored a comprehensive reform of summer feeding to reverse the abysmally low participation rates, and have won bipartisan support for it, including co-sponsorship by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell


-          We’ve solidified partisan support for breakfast after the bell from Nevada Governor Sandoval to Colorado Governor Hickenlooper.


-          Taken together these amount to a revolution in the nation’s commitment to feeding hungry kids

Most of these Americans are not only vulnerable, they are voiceless Our real opportunity is to help lift their voices and our own.

We must help lift the voices that say we will never let politics or bureaucracy of indifference stand between a hungry child and a healthy meal.

We must lift voices that say the fight against hunger is not part of some culture war that has to do with how you feel about the role of government or how you feel about poor people, but one of the great humanitarian, faith, and social justice issues of our time.

We must be the voice that says Congress needs to pass a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill that reforms the summer meals program so that summer EBT and non-congregate feeding can get meals to kids.

            We must be the voice that says we will not only feed kids but we will marshal the will to prevent hunger in the first place.

And we must help lift the voices that say: We can’t have a strong America with weak kids

We must be the voice that echoes James Baldwin who said “these are all our children and we shall either profit by or pay for whatever they become.”

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Louisianans Have Long Memories

            Louisianans have long memories.

            Last week the Share Our Strength board met in New Orleans and participated in two days of site visits with other partners and supporters.

Ten years ago, within days of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, philanthropists and civic leaders poured into the region with promises of help. We traveled there as well. We committed that while we could not be the largest donor, we would stay the longest and be there until the recovery was complete. It wasn’t “on strategy” for us to do so, but an event as enormous as Katrina didn’t fit anybody’s strategy. My take-away from last week’s visit, beyond the always incredible food and hospitality, is about how small acts, outside of the spotlight and with no motivation beyond trying to help, despite long odds, can have memorable long-term consequences.

-            93 year old Leah Chase remembered how Ashley Graham of our staff helped her re-open her famous restaurant after Katrina. 


-          The Volunteers of America remembered the Share Our Grants that enabled them to create a social enterprise to make and distribute school meals.


-          Dickie Brennan of the legendary Brennan restaurant family remembered how we helped fisheries and restaurants get back on their feet.


-          The principal of the William Fisher charter school remembers how Rhonda Jackson of our team got them the grants they needed to implement breakfast in the classroom.

Share Our Strength’s past and future come together in New Orleans. It’s a place where we transitioned from grant maker to a focused No Kid Hungry strategy to increase participation in school breakfast and summer meals. Much more remains to be done. When I asked the vice-principal of one school what other issues impacted the kids readiness to learn, he told us that 48 of the 611 students are homeless, that the fathers of two students has been murdered in just the last three weeks, and so “the kids bring lots of issues from home into the classroom with them.”

For me, the biggest take-away of all is that we need to have a long memory too. The seeds we planted a decade ago continue to bear fruit in communities across the region, as Rhonda Jackson and our team continue to re-plant and re-invest. We especially need a long memory when it comes to taking risks, not letting strategy ever stand in the way of doing what is right, and sometimes being willing to start down a road even if you can’t see all the way to the end of it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

New public suppport for not only feeding kids, but preventing hunger


I wish I had a dollar for every time a well-meaning friend or supporter has said “No one could be against feeding hungry kids.”  It’s true but fails to address the real issue which is that while everyone is for feeding a hungry child, not everyone is for helping to prevent a child from being hungry in the first place.  The latter would be more cost effective, but takes more than food, and gets politically complicated.

That may be beginning to change. Here’s some good news: childhood hunger is not the only issue that generates bipartisan support. Early childhood education is another.  Our colleagues at Save The Children, and their sister organization, Save The Children Action Network led by Mark Shriver, last week released new public opinion research from five battleground states showing extraordinary levels of bipartisan support for investing in pre-K.  @ http://thehill.com/opinion/op-ed/253162-early-education-could-be-key-to-winning-campaigns

87% of Republicans, 94% of Democrats, and 89% of Independents agree that the years 0-5 are important for the learning and development of a child. And 63% believe that public education should start at the age of 4 and be offered for free to all children.  The researchers assert: “For voters, the importance of investing in early childhood and allocating tax dollars to our youngest learners is a settled issue. The next step is harnessing the political will to make expanding access and improving quality a reality.”

This bi-partisan support is similar to what we’ve found for our No Kid Hungry campaign, which itself has such critical impact on a child being ready to learn.  Childhood hunger and early learning may be logical companion issues worthy of joint effort.   School meals are one vital way of ensuring that children are ready to learn and succeed, but only one. Kids need more.

The new polling shows a common sense commitment to invest for the future and willingness to sacrifice if necessary to do so. “Sacrifice” is not a word you’ll hear from any of the 2016 presidential candidates.  It was last used by Jimmy Carter in the late 1970’s and hasn’t been even whispered since. So once again, citizens and nonprofits must lead, and wait for the politicians to follow.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Public-Private Partnerships at the Heart of Our Success with No Kid Hungry Campaign


This weekend the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported on how a small grant from Share Our Strength will have a big impact on First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe’s effort to add 100,000 kids to the school breakfast program in Virginia in the next 2½ years.  It is such a strong representation of how we forge public-private partnerships that combine state, federal, nonprofit and business resources to get things done for hungry kids. See @ http://www.richmond.com/article_09c2b0ef-d688-5c3a-ade6-fe39277c5390.html
            The amount of this specific grant was small, but it leveraged hundreds of thousands of additional dollars. And First Lady McAuliffe is squarely on message about the educational advantages of this type of bipartisan approach.  We are seeing similar results in Nevada, Colorado, Arkansas, Maryland, California and numerous other states. 

           We still have a long way to go to get to done, but this type of public-private collaboration that has always been Share Our Strength’s signature style will get us there. Along with setting big goals, holding ourselves accountable to specific outcomes, focusing on children and remaining bipartisan, it is a critical ingredient of the “secret sauce” we can someday bring to other challenges of hunger and poverty.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bearing witness in Appalachia to mothers and babies

In response to my post below about poverty and brain development, my colleague Jen Keleba wrote the following which I found much more interesting than what I wrote. With her permission I am reprinting it here:

I went on a site visit in rural Kentucky to pretty much your most typical Appalachia scenario: double-wide with tattered curtains and a bursting front porch; everything perched in a dirt yard strewn with rusted-out American-made models up on cinder blocks; the requisite dog-on-a-chain spinning in impotent circles of rage. It actually looked quite a bit like the area where I grew up, which was startling in and of itself to realize that I came from a place most Americans would want to “help.”

Anyway…the mom was essentially stranded on this land. Her husband worked so he had the only car, and money to buy gas was strictly budgeted for the work commute and nothing else. Her own education stopped at 6th grade, but she had somehow found her way into this program for her kids to have a Save the Children program officer come bring books to her children and teach her to read to them.

I was holding the baby, who was about 18 months old, as he mouthed at the corner of a board book and waited for the “lesson” to begin. But it never really did. The program officer and the mom ended up talking mostly about household food budget and tips on how to make the dollar stretch. There was a lot of talk about “What have the children been eating these days” and depending on the answer, the program officer would make suggestions about deals she’d seen in the produce section, or she’d relate a family dinner she’d made that had lasted for three nights. It was all done in a very casual “visiting” manner. I remember wondering, “Um…are we ever going to get around to reading to this kid?”

At the time, I just didn’t get it. What I heard was two women chatting about household economics and trading recipes like my grandma and her friends on a Sunday afternoon, none of which was in the early childhood education curriculum we were marketing and selling on a national level to funders. It wasn’t until the final five or so minutes of the visit that we actually pulled out a book and worked with the mother and baby to read together. And then I saw it…the whole demeanor of the mom had changed. When we’d arrived she’d been suspicious and stiff (certainly a result of my presence to “document” the trip) to the point where she’d been awkward holding her own child. By the end, she’d relaxed into a smiling, nurturing position and was reading, though with some struggle, to her baby. As we left, she thanked the program officer for the food tips with a smile and a wave, and a promise to keep reading to the baby until next time.

You probably saw this coming from a mile off, but it took me longer than I care to admit to realize that until that mom could figure out how and what she was going to feed her child, it didn’t matter how many books we pushed under her nose. In the order of importance, answering her child’s hunger came before all else. Hunger was the immediate problem that could not wait; reading, in that case, could.

It was a profound turning point for me in understanding the poverty gap in education…heck…even in understanding better so many of the people I grew up with. Your email this morning reminded me of that lesson.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

letter from the hippocampus

            Like a SWAT team tracking escaped convicts, scientists investigating the damage that poverty inflicts on children are utilizing forensics to close in on the culprit.

New research more strongly links poverty, brain development and reduced academic achievement.  In April I wrote about the ravages of inequality on America’s children, as evident in correlations between low income and smaller brain size.  See @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/billy-shore/-smaller-bank-accounts-sm_b_7151794.html  On July 20, a team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Seth Pollak published findings in JAMA Pediatrics (Journal of the American Medical Association) that went farther than before. 

Analyzing MRI scans of 389 children and teens over six years; they found that poverty affected the structure of three parts of the brain related specifically to academic achievement: the frontal lobe, the temporal lobe, and the hippocampus. 15-20% of the gap in test scores between low income and upper income kids can be explained by structural differences in those three parts of the brain. Kids living in families below the poverty level had 8-10% less gray matter in the regions of the brain associated with learning and scored 4-7 points lower on standardized tests.

The new study is the first to connect these findings. "Our research suggests that specific brain structures tied to processes critical for learning and educational functioning (e.g., sustained attention, planning, and cognitive flexibility) are vulnerable to the environmental circumstances of poverty, such as stress and limited stimulation and nutrition," the authors note. "It was stunning to see the circle closed—the delay in brain growth explains the achievement deficit in poor children," says Pollak.

The “aha!” is not so much the correlation but the granularity and specificity of imaging that makes such correlations irrefutable, and harder to look the other way.

 When it comes to poverty, our national Achilles’ heel is the habit of “out of sight, is out of mind.”  Brain size is a microcosm for it. Talk about invisible!  If not for neuro-science we would never know that specific damage that hunger and poverty inflict. Until now we never had an unobstructed view. Instead we had to speculate, surmise, make a leap of faith. Graphing MRI’s to income and test scores makes what is fuzzy more sharp and clear.  

Nature gave us all hard skulls, just not hard enough to protect what’s inside from politics, bureaucracy, indifference and neglect.  But the good news, as JAMA said in an editorial, is that the sensitivity of the brain (what scientists call “plasticity”) to positive as well as negative “lends credence to the idea that interventions to remediate adverse early environments may have some success in altering this neurobiological tie.”

These discoveries add urgency to everything we do.  It puts Share Our Strength on the front lines not only of feeding kids but also increasing educational opportunity. Whether you are working on our Hunger Free Summer for Kids legislation, Dine Out, corporate partners, innovation, culinary, Cooking Matters, or other vital relationships, it’s more clear than ever that a generation of children across the country depend on your efforts.

Monday, July 6, 2015

lessons from our border for The National Commission on Hunger

A national commission’s report to Congress can seem like an academic exercise at times, but there was nothing academic about coming face to face with young moms who fled violence and abuse in Mexico, to clean homes and sell tamales in Texas, hoping for a better life for their kids.  Tears, pleas and hugs said more than their translated words about a level of suffering on our side of the border that has become the norm as politicians remain paralyzed on immigration reform. 

At the end of June the National Commission on Hunger visited the Texas/Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley for a field visit and hearing.  Hosted by The Texas Hunger Initiative, we traveled in and around El Paso, meeting families struggling with hunger, health care, jobs, and the nearly insurmountable challenges of addressing them while undocumented.  Many were from colonias, the unincorporated settlements often lacking basic infrastructure like water and electricity.

            The Texas border is 1254 miles of paradox. Families with four or five kids may have one or two born here and therefore U.S. citizens entitled to benefits such as SNAP, but with brothers and sisters who are not.  Seniors without enough food for more than one meal a day, are too proud to seek emergency food assistance.  Families who fled poverty in Mexico find conditions too similar here: “There is light in our streets but darkness in our homes” said one man.

            “How do you manage to get by on disability and SNAP payments that add up to only $800 a month?” a commissioner asked one older man, now a U.S. citizen. He replied: “God squeezes but he doesn’t choke you.”

            During testimony, one food bank director said their work was no longer “emergency food assistance” because they see clients an average of seven times a year which means “they are chronically food insecure because they are chronically economically insecure.”  We heard compelling arguments, as we have elsewhere, for more flexibility in summer feeding. 

Many we met argued that in the world beyond Washington’s convenient constructs, the issues are intertwined and must be dealt with holistically and comprehensively if we are to have a chance of solving the hunger at the heart of the Commission’s charge. If the Commission could get Congress to embrace that wisdom from the colonias, it might be the greatest contribution we make.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A "school breakfast dividend" that increases instructional time and boosts achievement

            When New York put $17.9 million in the budget this week to enable 500 elementary schools to switch to breakfast in the classroom, it meant 340,000 more kids will start their day with the meal they need to succeed. That’s worthy of celebration in its own right. But as they say on the late night infomercials for knives and kitchen appliances: “Wait, there’s more!”  We’re learning that the impact of breakfast in the classroom is potentially even more profound.

            A panel at Virginia’s School Breakfast Summit this month cast our school breakfast work in a new light. The four testimonials from a principal, superintendent, literacy specialist and school nutrition director went beyond the usual rhetoric that “hungry kids can’t learn.” Instead each made a related but different point about the value of alternative breakfast strategies.  They explained how breakfast after the bell increases instructional time in measurable ways.

Many kids previously came to class late most days because they would go to the cafeteria first – not early before school, but as the first period was starting – and then arrive at first period halfway through.  Alternative breakfast gave the teachers 20 minutes back and a full first period.

Increased instruction time is the coin of the realm in education circles. It is one of the most important variables in increasing the academic achievement upon which school rankings, teacher performance, and funding often ride. Accordingly legions of advocates advance and champion ideas for squeezing more class time into a finite school day.

Now apply this to our win in New York. Imagine a percentage of the 340,000 elementary school students who will start getting breakfast in the classroom having 15 more minutes of instructional time a day.  Over the course of 180 school days that would yield 45 hours of additional instruction. More than an entire week.  It is a “school breakfast dividend” that compensates for the class time that we’ve been stealing from children and teachers through the less inefficient cafeteria model instituted half a century ago.  Any calculation about return on investment for breakfast after the bell ought to include it.

There are obvious physical and developmental benefits to ensuring that children start their day well fed and ready to learn. There is also the value of eating together as a class, in a more communal setting, rather than in cliques in the cafeteria. Now add additional instructional time that benefits students and teachers alike.  There not a less expensive or more cost effective way to achieve it than the innovation moving breakfast to when and where kids are, rather than requiring the kids to navigate logistical hurdles, often beyond their control, of getting to breakfast.

There’s more to celebrate than we thought.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

From The Chefs Cycle Finish LIne

            I’m happy to report I finished the 300 mile Chefs Cycle ride from Santa Barbara to San Diego and to almost everyone’s surprise never had to get into the support van, and the automatic defibrillator never had to come out. We raised more than $330,000 for our No Kid Hungry work and had more than one thousand brand new donors to Share Our Strength. None of it would have been possible without your generous support and your wonderful friendship.


It was almost all fun, except for a few excruciatingly painful hills. The two fingers I am typing with are the only parts of my body that don’t hurt.


Most important, there are some wonderful new Share Our Strength leaders emerging among the riders, a new generation of chefs, restaurateurs, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts passionate about No Kid Hungry and eager to raise more money and more awareness. They taught me a lot about team work. If even one of the 20 riders had not been there I’m not sure I would have made it to the end. It was also a great lesson in how each of us is capable of far more than we think, of how many limitations are self-imposed and can be exceeded, and of how many people out there are looking for ways to share their strength and make a difference for others.


The end of the ride included a one and a half mile climb up a mountain in an area called Torrey Pines. The intimidating hill had been talked about so much in advance, in such fearsome terms, that it took on the mythic quality of a ghost story repeatedly told at a camp fire. The apprehension beforehand was almost worse than the ride itself.  If you had taken of a video of me on the climb it would have looked like a still shot, except for the sweat pouring down my face and onto the bike frame.  

All of the riders are already looking ahead to the next challenge, and the next way they can share their strength. Think about joining us for all or part of next year’s ride. Remember, if I can do it, anyone can!

Monday, May 25, 2015

The long and winding road of Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry

          Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry is on the verge of an achievement that many would not have thought possible.
          Memorial Day weekend was a key training milestone, with extended time for long rides.  One thing that struck me is just how much the challenges of this ride parallel the challenges we face ending childhood hunger. The chefs who are riding in Chefs Cycle will raise an incredible amount of money that will enable us to feed millions of kids.  But more important, they are demonstrating qualities invaluable to our No Kid Hungry campaign.

            Much of my time on the bike this weekend felt great. But some was not so great.  High winds on several stretches slowed my progress to a crawl. There were a few construction site detours. My chain needed to be oiled. I ran out of Gatorade before I finished. Toward the end of one long ride my legs were just out of gas and the left knee that I thought would bother me was nothing compared to my right quad. 

            Every path has variables and adversities whose specifics may not be predictable but that are guaranteed to surface. We see the same in our efforts to advance No Kid Hungry.  A new governor comes into office who is not as supportive as the last. A school food service director vacancy goes inexplicably unfilled for months. A funder we counted on gets fickle and directs their money somewhere else.  Everything takes longer than anticipated.

            There are dozens of reasons to say we’ve gone as far as we can go, just as there are dozens of reasons for getting off the bike. Many are valid. All of them get you to the same place: somewhere short of the goal. Perhaps the greatest challenge, whether on the bike or in our work, is the ever present doubt, second guessing, and fear of not accomplishing what you committed, publicly, to do.

That leaves one indispensable quality which is what Chefs Cycle and No Kid Hungry are all about: persistence. I always envision our No Kid Hungry team as walking on to the field just as everyone else who has tried but failed is walking off.  I think of Chefs Cycle going a distance that no one else thought could be accomplished, doing what Josh Wachs, our Chief Strategy Officer, insists upon in No Kid Hungry state campaigns: “getting all the way to done.”
           Participating chefs are not only raising money but personifying the role of persistence in teaching, inspiring and leading. That’s what gives me confidence we will succeed in achieving No Kid Hungry.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bearing Witness to Deep Poverty and Inspirational Leaders in Arkansas

Some things are worth waiting for. Like the two days this week we spent in Arkansas.  It has been a high priority state for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. The National Commission on Hunger made it the site of its first field visit and second field hearing.

On the one hand the suffering of impoverished families across the state is palpable. 29% of the children live in poverty which puts Arkansas at 49th  worst in the nation. 40 percent of seniors are classified as food insecure.  In Pine Bluff, where the child poverty rate is 37% what passes for an after school rec center is a life saver for many teens but in dire need of renovation and resources.

We witnessed families lining up at fire stations and churches acting as makeshift food distribution centers for a once-a-month bag of food that will last no more than 3 days. The devastating loss of jobs in a changing economy, hunger, crime, and closing schools, are met by programs that barely keep up, let alone conquer the challenges.  

On the other hand, children and families across the state are benefitting from our No Kid Hungry campaign in ways so tangible, visible and measurable that you couldn’t miss it if you tried. At almost every site, and from the lips of every witness at the hearing held by the National Commission on Hunger – whether advocate or state cabinet official- were words of praise for Cooking Matters, our summer meals strategy, and our school breakfast work.  It was a day for pride in the service of each and every one of us at Share Our Strength.


At Martin Luther King elementary school we saw breakfast in the classroom in operation.  The efficient choreography of carts rolling down the halls, insulated bags and boxes being dropped off, and kids eating pancakes or cereal as they settled themselves for the day was state-of-the-art. 24 of 32 schools in Little Rock now offer breakfast after the bell.  


For me the takeaway from the trip is the need to resist the temptation to accept the unacceptable. Economic constraints and political division acclimate us to the notion that giving people just enough to get by is a reasonable standard. So we enable them to survive but certainly not thrive. Our political system aims interventions to hit somewhere above desperation but far below dignity. 


Thanks to our No Kid Hungry campaign, breakfast in the classroom, dedicated teachers, parents and administrators, and great local partners like the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, that won’t be the case for those kids at Martin Luther King elementary. After the pledge of allegiance, the students remained standing and recited this pledge too:


I pledge my loyalty to Dr. King’s dream by

Serving all humanity

To my school

To my teacher and by

Holding fast to my dreams

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Giving "sharing strength" a whole new meaning via Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry

            A three course dinner has always been more my speed than a three day bike ride, but we’re giving “sharing strength” a whole new meaning with our first 300 mile bike ride called Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry. I’m neither a chef, nor within 20 years of the majority of the other riders, but I’m hoping that either pride or pity will lead you to support my ride which will helps us feed hundreds of thousands of American children. Join me @ http://join.nokidhungry.org/site/TR/Events/DD_Pers_Fund_13?px=3108579&pg=personal&fr_id=1300


            In June, I’ll be riding 300 miles over three days, from Santa Barbara to San Diego (which on the map at least looks all downhill). Your support – large or small – will help take my mind off of the following concerns:


§  The combined age of my knees is 120 years old, a fact that is physiologically not relevant but mentally devastating (you’ll know what I mean someday)


§  Proper cycling shorts are not a luxury but a necessity unless you plan to stand at dinner while the rest of your friends and family sit and eat.


§  Instead of my conditioning peaking on the week of May 25, 2015 per the Endorphin Fitness training manual we are using, it will have peaked sometime during May of 1995.


Thanks for helping Share Our Strength create yet another vehicle for generating the resources necessary for ending childhood hunger in America. With 46 million Americans living below the poverty line, the needs of our nation’s children are greater than ever – and having a great impact on our schools, our health care system, and ultimately our economic competitiveness. 


One of our challenges here is to design new opportunities through which people can share their strength. I know that if we succeed we’ll inspire even more people than ever to get involved. So my pitch is “If I can do it, anyone can!” 


Again, a link to my donation page can be found @ http://join.nokidhungry.org/site/TR/Events/DD_Pers_Fund_13?px=3108579&pg=personal&fr_id=1300, and a link to some of your favorite chefs is @ http://www.chefscycle.org/ Thanks for considering getting behind our effort.



Thursday, April 30, 2015

Knees the combined age of 120 and other things I worry about while training for Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry

              Picasso said “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”  I’ve got the solitude part nailed.  Many Chefs Cycle riders organize group rides but I’m in a different city every day and my only window is 4:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. So it’s just me and the birds to break the silence. (I like to think the birds are singing not laughing.)  Besides I doubt I would be able to keep up with the group.

            The constant travel means I have to keep renting bikes and searching out new bike paths.  Here are the top five things I worry about as I go:

-          The combined age of my knees is 120 years old, a fact that is physiologically not relevant but mentally devastating (you’ll know what I mean someday)


-          That I won’t be able to find a Dunkin Donuts, Corner Bakery, or Arby’s when I need one (something that also differentiates me from my more fit riding colleagues)


-          That I will accidentally use some of the choice words I use when I am struggling on a steep climb, when struggling to get Nate to behave.


-          That while I’m celebrating finishing a 40 mile training ride, Allen Ng, Jason Roberts, Sara Polon and Mary Sue Milliken are celebrating an 80 mile training ride.


-          That instead of my conditioning peaking on the week of May 25, 2015 per the Endorphin Fitness training manual, it will have peaked sometime during May of 1995.

A big part of ending childhood hunger is overcoming fear of failure. That’s also a key ingredient for completing this ride.  As is finding more ways for more people to share their strength. I’m in awe of and inspired by my fellow riders who are doing just that.  As you’ll see from the Chefs Cycle website (http://www.chefscycle.org/)  this turning into serious money for our No Kid Hungry campaign

Confidence building donations on my personal fundraising page are much appreciated and enable us to feed thousands of additional kids. @  http://join.nokidhungry.org/site/TR/Events/DD_Pers_Fund_13?px=3108579&pg=personal&fr_id=1300

Friday, April 24, 2015

Excerpt from my ride journal, #2 (for Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry)

            Since I know little about cycling and even less about training, I take as gospel every word that comes out of Jason Roberts’ mouth. During our recent No Kid Hungry summit he said “don’t worry, just put some miles on the bike every day and you’ll be fine.”  So that’s what I’ve been trying to do, even while Roe and Nate and I are on our annual trip to Turks and Caicos during Nate’s spring break.

            It’s not easy to rack up 30 miles a day on an island (Parrot Cay) that is only 3 miles long. At least not without getting dizzy.  The only bikes here are Gravity EZ Cruz, with one gear and tires as wide as a Volkswagen’s.  The chain is so rusted I wanted to give the bike a tetanus shot. The average temperature here is 88 degrees.

 An island vacation is certainly no hardship.  But there is a sense that if I can ride in these conditions I can ride in any. I’ll keep doing what Jason advises. With less than 8 weeks to go, every mile counts. So does every donation. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

letter from my ride journal for Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry, training day #1

             Ok, this is going to be harder than I thought. Last week I began to train for the upcoming Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry, ( @ http://chefscycle.org/ )  I started  by consulting the training guide prepared by our friends at Endorphin Fitness. That was my first mistake. The week of April 13 was labeled week 6 for training purposes.

 On Saturday I took my first ride of the season outside of the gym. 28 miles on the Capital Crescent Trail that follows the Potomac River.  The first half felt great, I was really soaring, and I thought “Jason Roberts look out!”  What I didn’t know until I turned around at the 14 mile mark was that I’d had the wind at my back.   

            I learned some important things during the ride:

-          When a passing rider yells “on your left” it can be shorthand for “I’m passing so fast and close there will be no skin on your left arm and leg after I’ve gone by.”


-          Proper cycling shorts are not a luxury but a necessity unless you plan to stand at dinner while the rest of your friends and family sit and eat.


-          28 miles down means 272 more to go to complete the Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry 300 mile ride. The math is unassailable. The common sense of it is more questionable.

            Despite all of the lessons being learned the hard way and growing reservations about what I’ve got myself into, my experience tells me that Sharing strength is always the right thing to try. So getting back out there this weekend.   More riders still welcome!

Support of all kinds welcome, especially @ ow.ly/LLscm