Academy Award Winner and No Kid Hungry® National Campaign Spokesperson Jeff Bridges, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack are joining Share Our Strength®, the Federation of Virginia Food Banks and a diverse group of corporate partners, education leaders, government agencies and community organizations to launch the Virginia No Kid Hungry Campaign today at Barcroft Elementary School in Arlington. The public-private partnership will help to end childhood hunger in Virginia by connecting low-income children to key nutrition programs, including the Virginia Summer Meals for Kids Program.
“More than 17 million children in the U.S. don’t reliably receive the food they need to lead healthy, active lives. But our kids aren’t hungry because we lack food or because of a lack of food and nutrition programs,” said No Kid Hungry National Campaign Spokesperson Bridges, a long-time hunger advocate and founder of the End Hunger Network. “Our children are hungry because we have lacked a big-picture strategy to connect them to the nutritious food they need to grow and thrive. The No Kid Hungry Campaign provides that strategy.”
More than 218,000 children and teens in Virginia face hunger, and studies have shown that during the summer, children are at an even higher risk for both hunger and obesity because they lose access to regular, nutritious school meals. The Virginia Summer Meals for Kids Program, funded by the USDA, provides children free summer meals at hundreds of sites across the Commonwealth. However, according to a new report released today by the Food Research and Action Center, more than 80 percent of those eligible for free and reduced-price school meals who can get free summer meals, don’t participate.
“The reality is that child hunger isn’t just an educational issue or a health issue, it’s a moral issue,” said Gov. McDonnell. “We must do everything we can to make sure our most vulnerable children are getting regular, nutritious meals, especially during the summer when they are most at risk. Parents can simply call 211 to find a summer meals site near them.”
Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger, and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, the largest hunger-relief network in Virginia, will work with Gov. McDonnell and stakeholders across the Commonwealth to convene a collaborating table to improve access to federal food and nutrition programs. The first-year focus is to get more kids at risk of hunger participating in the Virginia Summer Meals for Kids program and after school meals programs. As part of the Virginiacampaign launch, partners are kicking off a summer meals marketing campaign with state agencies and nonprofit organizations to get the word out to families about free summer meals with outreach materials such as postcards, posters and public service announcements.
“The health and wellbeing of our nation is dependent on the health of our children, and no child should ever have to go hungry,” said Vilsack. “USDA works to provide low-income kids nutritious meals during the school year and in the summer so they can learn, grow, and reach their full potential. We know that our strength comes from our partnerships, and it will take everyone—government agencies, educators, elected officials, corporations, advocates and community leaders—to ensure that our children have a healthy start in life.”
With support from sponsors Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States, the Sodexo Foundation, the Walmart Foundation and Dominion Resources, Share Our Strength is committing more than $300,000 to the campaign to reach the first-year goals of connecting more kids to summer meal and afterschool meal programs.
“Our focus is on long-term change, the difference between just feeding a child today and making sure no child in the U.S. ever goes hungry again,” said Billy Shore, founder and executive director of Share Our Strength. “No Kid Hungry Campaigns provide resources to the most effective anti-hunger organizations and build partnerships that bring together private funders, public officials and nonprofit organizations. We’re pleased to be partnering with Gov. McDonnell in this bipartisan effort, and we believe that together we can end childhood hunger in Virginia.”
Share Our Strength supports No Kid Hungry Campaigns in 12 other states and will launch five more in 2011. These campaigns have seen tremendous success. Over the past two years, the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland helped increase the average number of summer meals served per day by almost 15 percent, which averaged out to nearly 5,000 more children served per day. The Campaign to End Childhood Hunger in Colorado helped increase the number of summer meals served in 2010 by 26 percent over 2009, serving an additional 202,962 meals.
“Our hope is that no Virginian ever has to worry about where they’ll get their next meal,” said Leslie Van Horn, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks. “These programs are in place to protect our most vulnerable children, and we’re thrilled to be working with our partners to make sure that families know these programs exist year round.”
In conjunction with the Virginia launch, Share Our Strength is kicking off its national summer campaign with a 20-city Summer Meals Road Tour where they will be visiting summer meals sites across the country to share how summer meals programs are working. A list of cities they are visiting can be found at www.Strength.org/Summer.
The Super Sprowtz, a team of super-powered vegetable super heroes, will serve as the Masters of Ceremony at the event, entertaining and “vegucating” Barcroft Elementary students and encouraging them to get excited to eat vegetables and lead healthy lives. Four of the Super Sprowtz– Colby Carrot, Brian Broccoli, Sammy Spinach and Suzy Sweetpea– will be introducing the speakers.
Healthy eating is a priority for all Arlington Public Schools to ensure that students come to school ready to learn. As part of Barcroft’s efforts, June 3-10 is Farm-2-Table Week. The school celebration includes a new Barcroft Cookbook, Barcroft Day at the local Columbia Pike Farmer’s Market, visits by local chefs and farmer’s market staff offering samples of fresh local foods at lunch, a PTA dinner with a special visit by White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and a movie screening of “What’s On Your Plate?” Proceeds benefit the Arlington Food Bank.
Share Our Strength’s national efforts, including the No Kid Hungry Campaign, are also supported by Core Partners ConAgra Foods Foundation and Food Network. Parents can call 211 to find a summer meals site near them. The press conference will be held at Barcroft Elementary School at 625 S. Wakefield St. in Arlington, Virg. at 2:00 p.m. ET. Go towww.NoKidHungry.org/Virginia to learn more about the Virginia No Kid Hungry Campaign.