All across America, families are struggling with hunger, and children are among the hardest hit. Billy Shore and his sister, Debbie, started Share Our Strength with the belief that everyone has a strength to share in the global fight against hunger and poverty, and that in these shared strengths lie sustainable solutions. We are proud to partner with Billy and the Share Our Strength team to help end childhood hunger in America — learn more about our partnership here.
We talked to Billy all about the origins of Share Our Strength, the realities of childhood hunger in the U.S., and how we can help. Read on, and take the No Kid Hungry pledge.
What inspired you to create Share Our Strength and the No Kid Hungry campaign? What was your “Aha” moment with the childhood hunger crisis?
My sister Debbie and I founded Share Our Strength in 1984 out of the basement of our row house on Capitol Hill with a $2,000 cash advance on a credit card and the belief that everyone has a strength to share; everyone has some way of giving back that can make a difference in their community and in the world. We were originally moved to act by the famine in Ethiopia and wanted to do something about hunger on a global scale. But the more we learned about hunger, the more we became aware of a growing problem here at home. A few years ago, inspired by the writer Jonathan Kozol’s advice to pick battles big enough to matter but small enough to win, we decided to create the No Kid Hungry campaign to end childhood hunger in the United States.We established a specific goal line and staked out a very specific view of what success could look like, and that made all the difference.
I think most people would be surprised at how widespread the problem is. Of the 47 million Americans on the SNAP (food stamp) program, almost half of them are children. Poverty and hunger affect kids in every congressional district in this nation. These are kids in our rural countryside as well as in our inner cities. These are kids in our churches, our classrooms, our Little League teams. One in five children in this nation has trouble consistently getting enough nutritious food to grow up strong. Twenty-two million school children get a free or reduced price school lunch and they are all eligible for school breakfast as well, but only 11 million get it. Closing that gap is a huge opportunity.
The consequences of this hunger would surprise people. When kids aren’t getting enough healthy food, it creates long-term, expensive consequences that can follow them for the rest of their lives. For example, it can actually change the architecture of growing brains, stunting a child’s ability to learn. Kids who struggle with hunger are hospitalized more frequently and can develop heart problems, anemia, obesity, diabetes and a whole host of health problems.
You say this is a solvable problem. Why?
This is not a country that lacks food or the ability to produce it. We have the food and nutrition programs for those who are unable to afford food on their own. Kids are hungry because they lack access to these programs. We can change that. At No Kid Hungry, we envision a day when it is inconceivable that children would not get the three healthy meals a day they need.
What are some ways No Kid Hungry is working to solve it?
Our national No Kid Hungry strategy rests on creating a strong network of state and city-based No Kid Hungry campaigns. We bring together governors, elected officials, educators, nonprofits, corporate leaders and employees, chefs, volunteers and a whole network of No Kid Hungry leaders to find the solutions that work in communities. We work on making sure kids have access to existing nutrition programs, like school breakfast or free meals in the summertime. We also work with low-income families on nutrition education. Having the skills to successfully navigate a grocery store and knowing how to stretch your limited food dollars to create healthy, affordable meals for your family can make all the difference in the life of a hungry child.
What are some programs/initiatives you’ve seen success with so far? Can you describe your greatest successes?
Since launching the No Kid Hungry campaign, we’ve helped connect hungry kids to more than 107 million additional meals than they otherwise would have gotten. We’ve seen great success in figuring out better ways to ensure kids are getting breakfast. For example, by supporting efforts to move breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom or other options “after the bell” we’ve added millions of students to the school breakfast program. By funding mobile meals trucks we’ve been able to reach more hungry children in the summertime.
Tell us about the Cooking Matters program. What kinds of skills are you teaching kids and families?
The participants in Cooking Matters courses and tours are moms, dads, grandparents, caregivers, kids and teens who want to make healthy meals on a budget. They learn to shop smarter, use nutrition information to make healthier choices, and cook delicious, affordable meals. For example, in our grocery store tours, people learn about unit pricing, and the health benefits of canned, frozen and fresh produce. In our cooking courses, chef volunteers teach basic cooking skills like breaking down a whole chicken or learning to sauté vegetables for healthy, delicious meals for the family.
How can people help this cause?
There’s a role for everyone in the fight to end childhood hunger. You can donate, volunteer at a food bank, and participate in advocacy to change public policy. Whether you work in marketing, in training, or in operations, you have the power to shine a spotlight on this issue and raise the funds we need to ensure that hungry children will get the healthy food they need, every single day. Thanks to the work you do, these kids can get onto a path for a brighter, smarter, healthier future. Learn more at our website, NoKidHungry.org.