Collective Effort is Needed to Fight Hunger
There is something magical about the holidays. For me, it comes from the joy of connecting with family and friends around a meal. It’s also a time to be grateful for all that we have, and to recognize that there are far too many people who may not share the same lucky circumstances.
No one should go hungry, especially at the holidays. This December, while food insecurity still plagues far too many American families, Congress is gearing up to consider legislation that could strengthen child nutrition programs. All of us – business, individuals, and civil society – should commit to taking action to end hunger and we should support strong government policies to help achieve that goal.
The prevalence of hunger in the US is striking. Forty-eight million Americans are food insecure, including 15 million children. And while the rate of food insecurity varies geographically, this is truly a national problem. Hunger is prevalent in both big cities and rural areas, as well as well as some of the most affluent counties in the country.
The Feeding America network of food banks serves more than 46 million people across the United States. We work hard to help provide for families during the holidays so that they do not need to make tough choices and weaken the wonder of the season for their children. Despite our efforts, there are still millions of people who face hunger during this time—and we cannot reach them alone.
It takes everyone working together to help feed people in need. Businesses are key supporters of Feeding America’s work and can help organize and inspire new efforts in their communities. Individuals volunteer with local food banks and also serve as key partners in raising the visibility of hunger in America. And the government plays a major role feeding children though child nutrition programs – such as WIC, the National School Lunch and the School Breakfast Programs and the Summer Food Service Program – throughout the year.
We are approaching an opportunity to significantly improve vital government assistance programs. Every five years, Congress reauthorizes its child nutrition programs through Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR). The next CNR is scheduled to take place in early 2016.
We urge Congress to pass legislation that will help us reach more children outside of the classroom—such as during the holidays and on weekends. Currently, only 18 percent of children who reach free and reduced meals during the school year are accessing the summer meals program, which simply isn’t good enough.
Current law provides funding for designated sites – in areas where at least half of children qualify for free or reduced-price schools meals – to offer summer meals to all children under the age of 18. Unfortunately, the requirement that children go to and consume their meal on site, often makes it difficult for children, particularly in rural areas to access these services. Proven solutions exist that would strengthen the summer meals program. These include streamlining after-school and summer programs to reduce paperwork and make it easier for sites to operate; providing grocery cards to low-income families during the summer months; and providing more options for community-based organizations to reach children with nutritious meals by waiving the rule that requires children to eat meals at a designated site.
As we enter this season of gathering, gifts and great food, I admit that my seasonal celebrations are tinged with sadness given the struggles faced by so many children and families. But these challenges are not intractable. Working together, we can solve holiday hunger, and truly make the season merry, magical and bright.
Diana Aviv is Chief Executive Officer of Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief organization. Feeding America is a nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meals programs. Follow her on Twitter at @diaviv.
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