Childhood Hunger: Who’s the Hero?

Our future lies with the children. The young without limits. The spirited who dream big. The hopeful who envision a better world, a world where no child goes to bed hungry.

It’s a simple statement, one we can all believe in. Food is essential to all, yet out of reach for many. Without it, our children can’t think. They can’t do. They can’t thrive and they can’t dream. Kids are the heroes of the story, and hunger is their Kryptonite.

Childhood hunger is deeply rooted. It’s an invisible enemy, ruthless and deadly, maiming and even destroying childhood. It’s not easy to defeat.

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Some provide food to those who need it, when they need it. Others attack the root cause. Most try to do it alone.

This is not enough. To only feed perpetuates the cycle of poverty. To attack the root cause neglects those in need today. To believe one organization can do it alone is hubris and simply maintains the status quo.

At Feed the Children, we know that to end childhood hunger, we need to empower children, unite forces, and attack the problem from all angles. It takes all of us:

  • Donors to believe in the cause
  • Experts to diagnose the problem and innovate solutions
  • Organizations to pool their resources and expertise
  • Communities to work together toward sustainable success
  • Leaders to institutionalize change

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It takes the power of many standing with the children to fight childhood hunger, to defeat the status quo.

This is the fight we have chosen. We chose it, not because it is easy, but because it is the right thing to do. Because our children need someone to fight with them and for them.

Because it is the only way to ensure that one day, no child goes to bed hungry.

Join our fight to defeat hunger and help kids be kids.

You Have a Role – Advocacy

Every day you and I actively participate in advocacy, influencing and shaping how we live life. Whether you’re trying to convince your friends and family to go to Chipotle over Qdoba, or you are leading a community or work project, your individual values and life goals influence how you lead and make decisions for yourself and others. You may not realize it, but you’re already an advocate.

At its heart, advocacy seeks to change the game and reconfigure the dynamics to improve a situation by engaging with community agents and decision and policy makers.

At Feed the Children, we pursue advocacy initiatives that drive us toward our mission to ensure that no child or family goes to bed hungry.

The great thing about advocacy is that anyone and everyone can play a role. You don’t have to be a lobbyist or policy maker to influence legislation or systems that affect child nutrition or foreign assistance. In fact, every time you cast a vote for an elected official or you educate your community on an issue you care about, you act as an advocate.

Advocacy by nature engages systems – schools, governments, organizations and companies. An issue as severe as hunger requires every facet of the community to be involved to formulate a solution that addresses the root cause.

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Image credit: Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com

Feed the Children is only one part of the solution to ending hunger. By incorporating advocacy into our work, we collaborate internally and externally to bring together everyone – children and families vulnerable to food insecurity, governors, members of Congress, church leaders and volunteers – all to inform an improved local and national response to hunger and poverty.

As a value-driven organization, Feed the Children has the unique opportunity to carry out its vision by elevating the voices of children and families we serve to influence positive change and to help break the systemic cycle of poverty in their local communities. And you can be a part of this vision.  

A great way to begin participating in advocacy is to find your own, individual identity in the issue of hunger. Whether you, a family member or friend at one point were vulnerable to hunger and poverty, or you know of a community anti-hunger organization, it is important for us to be familiar with the stories and nature of hunger in our own community. Once we better understand how hunger impacts our own lives, then can we take the next step to tell the stories of struggle, hope and courage to our community and to key decision makers.

Stories are a powerful tool to influence change, especially on hunger. You can leverage and harness those stories to influence a passionate response to providing more nutritious meals for kids who struggle with hunger in the summer. You can influence how your member of Congress and Governor protect our nation’s number one defense against hunger – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). You can educate your schools, faith communities and friends on SNAP in their area and how it serves the most needy.

These are just a few examples of how you can join Feed the Children in addressing the root cause of hunger and poverty through advocacy.

Straight Talk About Hunger in America

Today, we’re beginning a series of blog posts highlighting issues you’ve raised in your answers to the question, “What Would Jesus Undo?

Denise Sawyer is the woman behind the blog Wholesome Mommy. She’s a former teacher raising her family in rural Georgia, where grocery stores are few and far between and where many of her friends and neighbors are struggling to make ends meet. We spoke with Denise over the phone recently about her ongoing series, “Oh SNAP! Real Food on a Food Stamps Budget” in which she is spending 6 months learning to shop and cook healthy meals on a food stamp budget. The resources she has developed are phenomenal — she creates menu plans, shopping lists, and recipes for people on tight budgets with limited access to ingredients. And her mission is get these resources to as many people as possible, all without asking for a single dime in compensation for all her work.

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We asked her to watch Michael Boggs’ new single, “What Would Jesus Undo?” and write a post about how she would answer the question. Here’s an excerpt of her response, Undo Hunger:

This is such a timely post for me. I just received a message on my facebook page from a single mother who said she has just found herself in a situation where she needed SNAP to feed herself and her two children.  She said, “I just received my EBT card in the mail and still feel embarrassed for even needing them.”  Why does she feel embarrassed?  Well, most of us would feel similarly, we all have pride we have to overcome and realizing and then having to ask for help is a humbling experience.  But honestly, its something more, its the way you are looked at in the store, the snide comments made about “those people,” and the facebook posts that we post without thinking about the REAL people in these situations.   I just saw one today.  And actually, it was posted by not one, but two of my friends, who have judged others for needing SNAP benefits.  It was a picture to two refrigerators – one brimming with food labeled as someone “with no job and welfare,” and one empty but for a single item, labeled as “hard working tax payer.”

Read her entire post in full here. (And don’t forget to get your free download of Michael Boggs’ new song!)

Feed the Children Goes to Washington

One of the most exciting new developments in the past year for Feed the Children has been the opening of a new office in Washington DC. Joining the ranks of its non-profit counterparts, Feed the Children created a government relations team to be a voice in Washington and to represent the millions of children and families we serve. Most of all we see the work of this team as the group to lead the charge into advocacy.

“Advocacy” means many things. At Feed the Children, advocacy educates, elevates conversations and promotes policies to address the systemic issue of hunger and poverty. We seek to be a voice for the voiceless. We seek to partner with governmental agencies already engaged in similar work both in the US and around the world.

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Lobbying, or directly speaking to policy makers, is only one function of advocacy and is practiced by the two members of our advocacy team as well as myself and members of the executive team.

Bottom line—Feed the Children is and ALWAYS will be a non-partisan organization. We only take positions on specific issues that impact the communities we serve on a case-by-case basis. As a charity organization, we can’t make donations to any political party or endorse a candidate for public office.

In the last several months, we have built some very solid relationships with the Administration and members of Congress (on both sides of the political spectrum).  We have significantly raised our profile, not only with government officials, but also with our nonprofit counterparts.  It has given us a seat at the proverbial table and we have been widely welcomed.

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A day in the life of our team in Washington is different every day—often driven by the legislative schedule and the needs of our programing offices at any given time.

Most recently, our team pounded the pavement working to protect the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), America’s largest and most effective hunger relief program. Recently, the House of Representatives voted $40 billion in cuts to the SNAP program but must be approved by the Senate and signed by the President to be signed into law. So the fight is not over. We are now encouraging members of the House and Senate to come up with a compromise bill that will reform SNAP while protecting the most vulnerable of our society.   This is only one example of advocacy in action.

Additionally, our staff in Washington also works to reduce roadblocks. For example, gifts in kind donations have been freed in international customs because of the work of our D.C. team. They’ve also been in conversation with the US Department of State and Embassies to handle other international operational issues that affect our ability to serve more children.  And of course, they fundraise too!  They are busy researching international grants and domestic program grants that can increase our impact through federal funding.

In addressing hunger in the US and around the world, the situation we are faced with is that even if we quadrupled our revenue and service, Feed the Children couldn’t begin to solve the child hunger problem alone. The problem has to be addressed in partnership with those who work in Washington among many others. And, Feed the Children is glad to be here in Washington—especially during seasons like this one.

When Hard Times Come for American Families

When hard times come, we could all use a little safety net. We could all use a little help knowing that we won’t have to make the choice between keeping a roof over our heads and feeding our children. We could all use a little encouragement knowing that we aren’t alone—even if we feel this way.

Through our Americans Feeding Americans campaign, Feed the Children is doing just this for countless families who have fallen on hard times.

In December, our big trucks rolled through the rural South Georgia town of Sylvania, the county seat of Screven County (population 15,000). Screven ranks among the poorest counties in the state with at least 33% of its residents living below the poverty line. Sylvania is a forgotten town which took a big hit 20 years ago when all the major factories closed their doors and took most of the county’s jobs with them. With jobs not readily available for parents, one in three children here are at risk of going hungry on a daily basis.

It seemed like a perfect place for Feed the Children to lend a hand up of support—donating food and essential care products to over 800 households.

In Sylvania, we met a family who couldn’t help but say thank you and thank you over and over for what our assistance meant to them.

Daniel, the father, had recently lost his job. Though he’s looking regularly for work, so far he hasn’t found even a minimum wage paying job to help support his wife, Jennifer and three children: Tessa, 9, Tye, 6 and Lilly, 4.

If the job loss wasn’t hard enough to manage, Daniel shared that his aging and sick father recently moved in with them.

“Sometimes,” the mom, Jennifer says, “I really worry about how we are going to pay the bills and make sure that there is food in the pantry.”

Though they get assistance from the government through unemployment and SNAP benefits, “It’s just not enough to feed a family of six.”

Such is why the presence of the Feed the Children distribution coordinated through a partner agency in town was such a blessing.  It was encouragement and a little boost to a family seeking to make it but just needing someone to help remind them that others are cheering them on.

As the family vehicle (in desperate need of repairs itself) pulled way from the distribution site, Daniel rolled down the windows of his truck and said, “Please tell everyone at Feed the Children thank you again. We will eat well tonight.”

Feed the Children’s American Feeding Americans—it’s what being a good neighbor is all about… one family at a time.

Ten Simple Ways To Help Children in 2014

The numbers are overwhelmingOne in five American households with children were unable to put adequate food on the table at times during the year. One in eight people around the world regularly do not get enough food to live an active life. These numbers represent precious human lives and millions of children who lack what they need to reach their potential.

If you find yourself looking at these numbers, concluding that the problem is too big, and turning away, you aren’t alone. But just for today, don’t. Sit with it for a minute. Then know this: Hunger is a big problem both in the United States and around the world, but you can help.

We asked our staff to suggest simple things that ordinary people could do to help, not to feel better about ourselves but to truly make life better for the people around us who are going without.

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You will also find many great ideas for schools, Girl and Boy Scout troops, churches, and more on our Special Projects page. If you need help putting a fundraising project together, we have a team standing by with experience and resources to make your project a success. Learn more and fill out the project application to get started!

We know you have some fantastic ideas, so share your ideas in the comments. Throughout this year, we will feature some of you and the ways you are making a difference every day. If you’re on Pinterest, pin your ideas to our board!

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Submitted by Robin Wood
Give your time (Four hours a week would be a tithe if you work a typical full time job) to serve a local rescue mission or food bank.

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Submitted by Jayme Cloninger
Leverage your skills in accounting, graphic design, business, etc., at your local community anti-hunger organization.

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Submitted by Tony Forrest
Sponsor a child in a developing country through Feed the Children. If you have them, involve your own children by sending letters and pictures to the sponsored child.

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Submitted by Tom Davis and Jayme Cloninger
Track your grocery and other food costs for one week. Then take the Food Stamp Challenge, living on $4/day/person for your food, and donate the money that you save that week to a local food bank. If you can’t make it on $4/day, spend more, but commit to donating the same amount you would have given otherwise plus the amount that you went over the limit.

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Submitted by Tamara Johnston and Justin Shumaker
Go in with your coworkers on a purchase from the FTC gift catalog.

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Submitted by Trevor Moe
Tell your member of Congress that together we can end hunger, and ask them to make a commitment to end child hunger. Call 1-800-826-3688 or find contact forms for your elected official here.

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Submitted by Jayme Cloninger
Host a movie night in your workplace, faith community or school to show a documentary on hunger (e.g., A Place at the Table). Follow up with discussions and brainstorming about what your group can do together to help.

Top-Ten-08
Submitted by Jayme Cloninger
We recommend (e.g., Closing the Food Gap, When Helping Hurts, A Place at the Table, and Beyond the Food Drive). What books do you recommend?

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Submitted by Kristen Mills and Minna Suh
Even if you don’t normally use cash, select certain purchases to pay for with cash this year. Save all the change (or, for an extra challenge, save your singles too). You will be AMAZED at how quickly this adds up.

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Submitted by Hogan Thomas
Workplace activities are fun! Participants pay a small fee that you donate to a local charity. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • sell 15-minute naps
  • host a game tournament (players pay a fee to participate)
  • allow employees to pay to take their dog to work
  • host a cook-off or bake-off (people pay to sample and vote),
  • host a Pay To Wear a Hat Day or a Wildest Tie or Most Outlandish Earring contest (entrants pay a fee)

From Skeptic to Believer: How Our CEO’s Wife Became Our Biggest Supporter

Once upon a time, only a few months ago, I never would have given Feed the Children a dime.

I never would have written anything nice about them in public.

I never would have put on a Feed the Children t-shirt.

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And my husband Kevin was Feed the Children’s new President and CEO.

As a 30-something pastor already involved through my church in supporting relief and development organizations, I was leery of the big promises of an organization with such a wide scope. I opted to support and give to my local church and to other do-good organizations with which I had a personal connection—places where I was confident my dollar was being put to good use.

Yet, I supported my husband’s calling to lead Feed the Children (I’d never seen him so passionate about anything quite like this) and soon thereafter I said yes to my first field program trip in August of 2012 to Malawi and Kenya… only because Kevin asked me to go with him.

As we boarded the plane Africa-bound, I sought to have an open mind.  Maybe it might be different than I imagined?

e hagan 2 editedAnd it was. From day one, I began to experience some of the most pure and life-changing work I’d ever seen—though I’d already traveled extensively in the developing world, coming to Africa twice before.  The Feed the Children I began to get to know personally surprised me.

I was surprised when I met some beautiful women in remote villages in Malawi who brought their toddlers to one of our feeding centers. I heard them say to me through translators, “Thank you so much. There is no other way we could feed our babies if you didn’t help us. Feed the Children is the only support network we’ve ever known that has stayed here for the long haul.”

I was surprised when I chatted with staff over cups of coffee in Kenya with so much light in their eyes. Their unbelievable dedication to improving the lives of children and deep spiritual core humbled me. I knew if I’d ever met a saint— these leaders were the real deal.

Kevin and I with the staff at one of our children's homes in Kenya
Kevin and I with the staff at one of our children’s homes in Kenya

I was surprised when I visited a school in the slums of Nairobi and put shoes on the tattered feet of first graders. As I watched delight come to their faces, I couldn’t help but have Isaiah’s words come to mind: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” I realized these children could now live into their God-given mission of simply be-ing because Feed the Children facilitated this gift of school shoes to them.  Wow.

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And over the past seventeen months, as I’ve continued to travel to field programs in other regions of the world like the Philippines and Latin America with Kevin, the story has been the same. Feed the Children does amazing work and I am a changed woman. I now own at least five Feed the Children t-shirts. And no one paid me to write this blog.

I’m not saying that Feed the Children is perfect. It has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go in achieving its mission of ensuring that no child goes to bed hungry, but for now, this skeptic of a CEO’s wife is a super fan! I’ve seen the work. I’ve met the staff. I’ve hugged the kids. And I can tell you: these are good people doing amazing things!

For the other skeptics out there too, I hope that you’ll believe as my husband says all the time, “It’s a new day at Feed the Children” because it truly is.

Pay-It-Forward from Australia to Nicaragua to the Neighbor Next Door

They say it takes a village to raise a child — sometimes it takes a few. A recent visit by His Excellency Tim George, Australian Ambassador to Mexico and Accredited to Nicaragua, revealed how teamwork around the world is inspiring Feed the Children’s work in Latin America.

Mr. George met Angelica when he visited our Productive Training Center in El Crucero last month. She received a chicken module several months ago through our pay-it-forward process.

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At its most basic level, a chicken module is simply 10 hens and one rooster that we give to a family to raise. But it’s much more than that. A chicken module is a life-changer. It provides fresh eggs, meat, and income for a family that is otherwise severely limited in resources. Even beyond this, it is help offered to a neighbor. Each family we give a chicken module to will then raise another module to give to a neighboring family, creating a positive cycle of self-reliance for an entire community.

Angelica has been able to triple the number of hens we gave her. She has done so well with the chickens that not only can she feed her family fresh eggs every day, but she has enough extra to sell in the local market.

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Angelica has branched out beyond the chicken module into vegetable gardening. This is chayote, a Nicaraguan squash.
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Australian ambassador Tim George with freshly picked eggs

The families in El Crucero thrill to show off what they’ve accomplished with the chicken modules. They made the ambassador’s visit an opportunity to thank their donors for supporting a program that’s made such a difference in their lives. Today, the community of El Crucero is raising healthy chickens, producing in the greenhouse, and running their new bakery facilities.

El Crucero illustrates how people from the U.S. to Australia to Nicaragua can come together to build community self-sufficiency programs.

Since partnering with Feed the Children in 2011, the Australian Embassy in Mexico has played a key role in helping families in need in Latin America. In just the last couple of years, their donated funds have made a measurable difference:

  • In Honduras we built two bakeries, benefiting 540 children and their families.
  • In Guatemala we provided 20 chicken modules, benefiting 244 children and their families.
  • In El Salvador we provided 20 chicken modules, benefiting 110 children and their families; and we provided another 20 chicken modules, benefiting 174 children and their families.
Veronica’s family received their chicken module two months ago!
Veronica’s family received their chicken module two months ago!

Community building takes teamwork between generous donors, effective programs, and willing participants. Without any one of these elements, this kind of community strengthening can’t happen. But it is happening—and it’s exciting to see. With funding from partners like the Australian embassy, our programs are making a real difference in helping families in El Crucero to develop new skills and earn income.

El Crucero is full of success stories like Angelica’s:

  • Brenda sold the first pick of eggs and, from those earnings, she was able to purchase a pig that she’s now fattening up to sell later for a significant profit.
  • Leticia and Veronica received their chicken modules just two months ago and their families are able to eat fresh eggs for breakfast.
  • Veronica’s new livelihood has created quite the demand—her neighbors come to her house looking for the delicious bread she makes at our center. 

This means their children have food for today and hope for the future.

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Years ago, we tested this community-development program in El Salvador. An Australian official visited, was impressed with our work there, and spread the word. Our international office staff worked together, shared their experiences, and helped each other craft proposals and reports to send to others willing to consider supporting this program in additional communities. Soon we got funding for Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua too.

Cooperation is how this program began, and cooperation is how it thrives.

Teamwork, both between our international offices and with partners from Australia to Alaska, demonstrates that we are a competent and professional organization. We will continue collaborating with each other, with our partners, and with the communities we serve, so that we continue see people moving toward self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Together, our hope grows.

If you’d like to partner with us in providing hope, learn more about the chicken modules HERE.

Join Us for a Day of Action

On November 1, 200 million meals were removed from the tables of hungry Americans as cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) took effect.

On December 4, Feed the Children and other organizations are standing to say “enough.”

Contrary to the giving spirit of the season, Congress is now considering a Farm Bill which will bring even more drastic cuts to our nation’s number one emergency response to hunger. These harsh cuts would weaken our nutrition safety net and push the boundary of food insecurity for a staggering number of Americans — including children — who don’t know where their next meal will come from.

jefferson memorial congress

Organizations like Feed the Children, while efficient and innovative, can’t feed everyone. SNAP and other federal nutrition programs deliver 23 times the amount of food assistance that private charities can deliver.

Is government always the answer? Of course not. But sometimes, non-government organizations need help. Food banks are stretched as demand has increased nearly 50% since 2006. And 34% of Americans now admit they have cut back on donations to churches and houses of worship. It’s a plain fact: federal programs play a crucial role in the fight against hunger.

Chief Marketing Officer Corey Gordon, Chief Executive Officer Kevin Hagan, and government relations staffers Jayme Cloninger and Trevor Moe visited Congress earlier this year to advocate for sensible reforms to SNAP.
Chief Marketing Officer Corey Gordon, Chief Executive Officer Kevin Hagan, and government relations staffers Jayme Cloninger and Trevor Moe visited Congress earlier this year to advocate for sensible reforms to SNAP.

Feed the Children believes the private and public sectors must join together in this time of severe need. To that end, we are working with members of Congress to protect SNAP while improving its efficiency and effectiveness.

These next few days on Capitol Hill will be critical for 47 million Americans who utilize SNAP to put food on the table.

And you can help.

  • Contact your members of Congress at 1-800-826-3688. Not sure what to say? Here’s a place to start: As a constituent, I have strong concerns about the Farm Bill in Congress. I urge you to protect SNAP from more cuts. I understand the need to reduce the deficit, but increasing hunger is not the way to do it.

Here are some more ideas you can share with your members of Congress:

    • I urge you to protect SNAP from additional harmful cuts.
    • Cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bill will make it even more difficult for 4 to 6 million Americans to put food on their table.
    • The proposed cuts to SNAP will have the greatest impact on children and seniors.
  • Share this post with your social network, friends, and family and encourage them to join The Day of Action, too.

Further cuts to SNAP could be devastating. But it isn’t too late. Right now, at the start of this season of giving, you have the power to affect how Congress treats America’s hungriest people.

Will we allow more food to be taken from children who need it most, or will we make our voice heard?

Jayme Cloninger is Manager of Public Policy at Feed the Children.