Hunger in America: The Children Need Your Voice

By John Ricketts

Tuesday, June 23, is National Call-In Day, a day set aside for people to call their congressional representatives and ask them to support federal school meal and child- nutrition programs. Hunger organizations across the country are working together to make this call-in day a success. Here’s why this initiative is so important to our work:

Prior to my work at Feed the Children, I served as a youth pastor for over 8 years and since 2010, I have led Feed the Children’s disaster-relief work. Two years ago, I was assigned to lead a new program at Feed the Children—the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which is a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides summer meals to food-insecure children. These children normally receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, but over the summer, many of them are left without access to regular meals. I am proud to lead a team that now sponsors 58 sites where we serve 1,800 – 2,000 meals a day to children during the summer.

Summer meals sites are frequently held at libraries, camps, churches, or schools. While kids receive a meal at a site, they can also stay active and continue learning with the books, school supplies, backpacks, and sports supplies that Feed the Children provides. On kick-off day, I saw hundreds of enthusiastic kids at these sites. SFSP gives them the opportunity to eat a nutritious meal and stay on track during the summer so that they don’t fall behind when they return to school.

4-2015 TRIP2513 MWC Elementary Distribution SMorgan (52) copySFSP is just one of the ways Feed the Children combats hunger. Our distribution centers provide millions of pounds of food to individuals in all 50 states every year. We have also distributed over 700,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to students. While I love all of the great programs at Feed the Children, our summer program is special to me—not only because I work on it every day, but also because I see the impact of the meals and the mentoring that our sites provide children. This program brings together many stakeholders to improve the lives of some of our nation’s most vulnerable kids.

This type of development effort creates pathways for people to overcome their hardships. Through the support of the community and mentors, hopefully these kids will have brighter futures.

SFSP only works through the combined efforts of the public and private sphere. Nonprofits can create effective programs to reach the people in need, but the scale of the problem is so large that funding is often a challenge. Federal resources flowing through faith and community institutions lead to more kids being fed and mentored every day. By investing in our children and those in need, we can become a healthier and more productive nation.

While we have made great strides to improve children’s access to meals, we continue to face challenges. Because Oklahoma is largely a rural state, many students do not have transportation to the meal sites. The mandatory congregate rule requires that children eat the meal together in a certain location. In urban settings, I have witnessed parents instructing their children not to come out of their homes or apartment complexes to participate due to safety concerns, and therefore the congregate feeding rule prevents some children from having access to summer meals. Changing the requirement would help programs across the country reach more kids.

While we would hope that this issue would be nonpartisan, the political climate has made the discussion around feeding children politically charged. If Congress could find a way to work together, we could improve these programs to reach more children.

All of us at Feed the Children are working hard to change the tide of poverty and hunger in America. We especially care about making sure every child in America is adequately fed. We urge you to join us in showing support for important programs such as SFSP by calling your representative on June 23. It only takes a few minutes, and we give you a suggested message to use. Your congressional representatives need to hear from you! Here’s how to participate.

#Expanding the Table– U.S. Faith-Based Community Uniting to Defeat Summer Hunger

I live in Oklahoma, the state that ranks 51st on the list of kids that are on free and reduced lunch during the year that don’t eat during the summer.

This fact is unacceptable.

How could Feed the Children, one of the nation’s largest hunger organizations be headquartered in Oklahoma and not address the hunger needs in our own backyard?

I knew that during my tenure at Feed the Children, change would need to happen.

So, beginning with a conversation and challenge from Audrey Rowe, Administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in 2013, Feed the Children made a plan.

We knew our lack of experience would limit us if we didn’t have support of partners. We’d need guides to contribute their wisdom to our efforts. And last year, USDA’s FNS along with No Kid Hungry gave us lots of great advice. With their encouragement, we began.

Last summer in Oklahoma City, Feed the Children rolled out our pilot Summer Food and Education Program in partnership with FNS, the Oklahoma Department of Education, PepsiCo Food for Good, local schools and churches to form the first coalition on childhood hunger in Oklahoma.

For 9 weeks, we served over 8,654 meals on site through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and provided an additional 186,000 take-home meals to children and their families.

IMG_1715We learned that organizing community leaders around summer meal programs actually is not as daunting as we first thought. Church and other faith based groups with established programs for kids in the summer serve as built in partners and host sites.

And this is the good news I want to share: in one summer, Feed the Children’s efforts helped to increase the number of kids fed in the state of Oklahoma by 30%.

We still rank 51st but we know, in time, this fact about Oklahoma will change.

In light of our experiences, on Tuesday, February 3, FNS invited us to share our story at The White House.

Feed the Children, in partnership with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the USDA FNS, convened a forum called “Summer Meals 2015: Expanding the Table.”

I sat among 40 leading national and local faith-based and non-profit organizations–all showing our support for the 2015 Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

As the session began, we heard from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who shared of his passion for no child going to bed hungry in the US. He reminded us that hungry kids in the US are hungry of no fault of their own. We all need to ban together to feed kids when school is out of session.

Next, I moderated a panel with community partners Dr. Kathy Krey, Director of Research for the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University, and Dr. Judy Goforth Parker, Secretary of Health for the Chickasaw Nation, sharing stories of lessons learned from summer meals. For example, Dr. Krey spoke of the value of “everybody doing something.”

“Even if all you can do is assist at summer meal sites by opening up milk cartons for kids–do it,” she said. “We must all do our part.”

The forum resulted in the large community of leading nonprofit and faith-based organizations pledging their individual and organizational support and commitment to address summer hunger, the results of which will greatly impact children throughout America.

IMG_9146It was an imperative that I sign the pledge and become a summer meal champion.

Following the meeting, Feed the Children organized a Twitter Town Hall, using #ExpandingTheTable as the hashtag, to disseminate the message of support with those organizations at the forum and encourage others to join in the call to action. The conversation among leading advocates for hunger in the US included: FNS, No Kid Hungry, the Salvation Army, and Church World Service, and was incredibly informative.

The forum marks the first time the national faith-based community has collectively partnered with FNS in support of SFSP, which is typically organized on a grassroots level to provide free meals and snacks to low-income children during the summer months.

It was a good day at Feed the Children as we expanded our table to welcome even more partners.

I’m looking forward to what the future holds for Feed the Children as we feed even more children this summer in Oklahoma and beyond.

Expanding the Table for Kids this Summer

For the more than 16 million children at risk of going hungry in the United States every day, summer break can be a tough time when it comes to finding a meal. With schools closed, kids on free and reduced lunch can’t count on three square meals a day.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) a federally funded program administered through the USDA office of Food and Nutrition (FNS) currently serves 3.5 million children each summer.

While this number is significant, it also means over 12 million kids aren’t eating lunch every day. The severity of the gap is frightening.

We can do better. We want to expand the table this summer to include more children. More tables need to be set. Many more children must be fed.

And, this is what we know: when government agencies, faith based groups and NGOs band together to support summer food service programs, the story changes. More children eat.

We’ve learned from FNS that Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sites almost always organize on a grassroots level. Faith communities hold particular and bring unique value to this process.

Often faith groups host these program sites as part of their summer camps and classes for kids. Lunch is often built into already existing community programming. It’s a win, win for the organization and the children.

IMG_5506And so, to bolster these efforts, Feed the Children needs your help. We’d like to chat with you about how we can encourage more groups, in particular faith groups, to become a part of the Summer Food Service program.

Though it is only January, the time to organize is now. So that in June, more kids can count on three squares.

Tomorrow FNS will host a free webinar called, “Summer Meals: Engaging Faith Based and Neighborhood Groups.” If you’d like to join in the conversation with some thought leaders like Melissa Rogers, the Special Assistant to the President, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith Based Partnerships, here’s more information.

And, to build on the momentum of this conversation, Feed the Children would like invite you to join us in a Twitter Town Hall on Tuesday, February 3rd.

In collaboration with the White House Office of Faith Based Partnerships and USDA Food and Nutrition Service, we’d like you to talk with us about how we can feed more children in the US this summer.

Here’s what you need to know:

What: Twitter Town Hall

When: Tuesday, February 3rd, 1-2 pm EST

Who:

  • Members of faith communities who have participated in a summer meal program,
  • Faith leaders who want to participate in a summer meal program
  • Anyone who feels it is an injustice that kids go without food during the summer

Where: #expandingthetable

Why: Because 12. 5 million children without lunch this summer is unacceptable

See you online @feedthechildren on Tuesday.