We’re thankful for the leadership, vision and commitment of Bill Shore — Timberland board member and founder and executive director of Share Our Strength , the nation’s leading organization endeavoring to end childhood hunger:
I’ve always been an early riser. One of the things I love most about Maine in summer is that the dawn breaks as early as 4:30 a.m. I’m usually waiting at the window to catch it. My writing or whatever I’m working on brightens with the new day. This weekend before Thanksgiving in late November I am still up early. But the wait for daybreak is much longer. It is nearly 6:30 before I get to feel anything other than alone in the darkness. Finally, a thin line of light appears on the horizon.
This long wait for darkness to lift must be what millions of our fellow Americans feel, trapped by recession, many for the first time in their lives, without jobs and increasingly without food, waiting … waiting… for the dawn to break. Two reports released this month evoke the words of poet William Stafford that “the darkness around us is deep.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its annual report, which showed a record 49 million Americans in 2008 struggling with whether they would have enough to eat. The number of children who experienced the most severe hunger increased from 700,000 to more than 1 million.
And just this morning, Share Our Strength released a survey, prepared by Lake Research Partners showing that this year, 62% of public school teachers are seeing children who regularly come to school hungry because they don’t get enough to eat at home. The problem is serious enough that 63% of teachers use funds from their own relatively low salaries to buy food for hungry kids in their classroom.
In the darkness it is easy to misdiagnose a problem. When one does, the prescription for treating it is likely to be wrong. That often happens with hunger in America. Children in our country are not hungry because we lack food, or because we lack food and nutrition programs. We are blessed with abundance of both, and for more than 25 years there has been bipartisan support for effective food programs like school lunch, school breakfast and food stamps.
Children in America who are hungry are hungry because they aren’t enrolled in these programs. Even in a weak economy, that is a solvable problem. But it requires more than the federal expansion of food and nutrition programs (which we also support). It requires working at the state and local levels to close the gap in the number of children who are already eligible for such programs but not enrolled or participating.
Maybe families don’t know the programs exist. Maybe kids can’t get to them. Our work is sometimes as simple as staffing a hotline to connect children with summer feeding sites in their neighborhood, or as complicated as lobbying for universal breakfast in the classroom, which tackles the challenge of kids not getting to school early enough for free breakfast, and the stigma that often prevents them from participating.
The barriers that keep children from programs that can prevent hunger are varied – and our strategy is tackling every one – state by state. Tomorrow, I’ll be in Denver with Colorado Governor Ritter to announce the launch of just such an effort, much as we’ve done with Governor O’Malley in Maryland and will be doing with others around the U.S. Our strategy is working, our network is growing in size and influence and we’re more certain than ever that we can end childhood hunger by 2015, but we need your continued support .
As governors with shrinking state budgets find themselves cutting social programs they’d prefer to grow, Share Our Strength’s strategy offers a ray of hope by bringing badly needed and already authorized federal dollars into their states to help feed children. Given projections that unemployment will remain at 10% or above through 2010, that states will continue to struggle with budget crises, as will food banks with shortages, Share Our Strength’s state-based strategy is the fastest, most realistic way to ensure that children get fed.
During the holiday season’s predictable media coverage of food banks and families in need of emergency assistance, it is worth noting that the USDA reports that just one in five families enrolled in programs like food stamps and school meals has actually visited a food pantry. Standing in a line at a food pantry in crisis is the last place a family should be. If instead, they are taking advantage of programs that stretch their food budget, teach them how to shop for and cook nutritious foods, and ensure that their children have free school and summer meals, they will never need to be there. This is the work that Share Our Strength is doing, and we need your continued support.
Please make the most generous gift possible this year, and help ensure that our work continues.
As I finish writing this, the sun has climbed high in the sky. I’m reminded that increasingly Share Our Strength’s role is to help bring light where there has been darkness, to educate hungry families and local government officials about untapped existing resources for feeding kids.
Thanks for all you are doing to help. Our early successes leave us confident of achieving our ambitious goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015. Once we do, there will be at least one less reason for families to wait anxiously for the dawn.
- Billy Shore