Coming together, bridging the hunger gap

Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples addresses children from Austin, Connally and Waco Independent School District Wednesday at the No Kid Hungry campaign launch in Austin. Ashley Yeaman | Lariat Reporter
Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples addresses children from Austin, Connally and Waco Independent School District Wednesday at the No Kid Hungry campaign launch in Austin.
Ashley Yeaman | Reporter

By Ashley Yeaman

AUSTIN— Government, non-profit and corporate leaders came together to celebrate the statewide launch of the Texas No Kid Hungry campaign Wednesday at Capitol Hill in Austin.

Also in attendance were more than 100 school children from Austin, Waco and Connally Independent School Districts.

The No Kid Hungry campaign unites the Texas Hunger Initiative of the Baylor School of Social Work with Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit organization, to end childhood hunger in Texas by 2015.

Texas has been ranked the second-hungriest state in the nation, and one in four children go without food, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the Texas Hunger Initiative, the state is fifth in the nation for child food insecurity.

Todd Staples, Texas commissioner of agriculture, said that these high numbers can be reduced.

“We have a situation where too many Texas children are going hungry,” Staples said. “Texas is a leader in many things. Child hunger should not be one of them. And we have resources in Texas to help bridge the gap and to build a better future for all children.”

Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, said the resources that are available can provide all children access to food.

“Five and a half million people are considered food insecure in Texas, which means they don’t know where their meal is coming from,” Everett said. “[But] there’s actually a number of sources to address hunger. We’ve already got resources allocated right now in Texas to ensure access to three healthy meals a day, seven days a week.”

Bill Ludwig, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Southwest regional administrator, said there is no reason any child should go to bed hungry.

“We have 15 national nutrition programs that are designed to end hunger, not only in Texas, but also across the United States,” Ludwig said.

Ludwig said a national perspective will help to utilize these programs.

“We need an organization like Share Our Strength because they bring knowledge about hunger issues across the United States,” Ludwig said. “They bring experience. They have an understanding of hunger, but more than anything else, they bring resources and boots on the ground to end hunger, and they’re here to help us end hunger in Texas.”

The partnership between Share Our Strength and Texas Hunger Initiative unites not only two organizations, but representatives from other nonprofits, the government and businesses for a common goal, said Bill Shore, chairman and chief executive officer of Share Our Strength.

“One of the reasons we’re all here, even though we all have very different ideas, different jobs, different views on things is really [the children],” Shore said. “I started an organization that does exactly what the title says. It means that everybody has something that they can give back to others. Everybody has something that they can give back to the community. So everybody up here is sharing their strength to end childhood hunger.”

Shore said the problem of childhood hunger lies in the lack of participation in food programs.

“Children in this country who are hungry are not hungry because we lack food,” Shore said. “We have food in abundance in America. Children in America are not hungry because we lack food nutrition programs. We have programs like school lunch and school breakfast, and the SNAP program and summer meals, but not enough kids have access to these programs.”

Shore said that in Texas, 2.4 million children get a free or reduced-price lunch, but only 1.4 million get breakfast.

“How do we get more kids enrolled for programs that are already set up? They exist, they’re paid for, and we just have to connect kids to it,” Shore said. “We’ve got all of the ingredients here today to make that happen, so this is the beginning of an effort.”

Success has already been seen through the implementation of pilot breakfast program in Dallas, Dora Rivas, food service director of Dallas ISD, said.

“As a result of the breakfast program, our breakfast participation has doubled, tripled at the pilot schools,” Rivas said. “The hard work of the staff and the collaboration with partners resulted in us going from seven pilot schools in the spring to 50, with the goal of expanding the program.”

Rivas said 20,000 more children are now eating breakfast every morning, giving them increased focus in the classroom, fewer trips to the nurse’s office and social benefits, such as serving one other breakfast and taking responsibility for clean-up.

“Because of community support and other collaborations, we are closer to eliminating the symptoms of hunger that are a barrier to student learning and that ultimately will lead to more students benefitting in Texas as well,” Rivas said.

Beth Drew, campaign manager of No Kid Hungry at the Texas Hunger Initiative, said in an interview after the event that the next planned step will be to unite the resources of all the organizations involved in the effort to end childhood hunger.

“In January, we are going to kick off the state operations team, which will be a place where representatives from state governments and from private entities and community nonprofits and companies every single stakeholder in the state will be in a room to figure out how to streamline the administration of these [food] programs.”