Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity will be running a series of commentaries in the summer of 2012 on the fight to end childhood hunger in America.
This commentary is the tenth and final installment in the series, which is entitled “Ending Childhood Hunger in America.”
Since it began in 1999, the Eos Foundation has invested in a variety of organizations in Massachusetts. As a funder, several challenges motivate us, including fighting hunger, providing healthy food, promoting urban agriculture, and helping families in low-income communities develop their own backyard gardens. At the same time, we have funded research by Children’s HealthWatch, which confirms how effective programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and heating assistance have been in promoting positive health outcomes and educational achievement among children and, ultimately, helping to break the cycle of poverty.
In 2008, as oil prices rose to $4 per gallon and the country fell into the Great Recession, Eos dedicated more funds to emergency food and heating assistance, so that families in our state wouldn’t be forced to choose between food or warmth in the long New England winters. Each year since, we have continued this “emergency assistance” funding.
Sadly, the struggle to feed one’s family is no longer a temporary issue for the unemployed. Hunger has become a chronic structural element of the U.S. economy. In fact, hunger has expanded such that it’s not only the very poor and unemployed who experience hunger, but now also people who are working full-time. Additionally, hunger is no longer just an urban and rural issue. There are plenty of Americans in suburbs and exurbs who struggle to afford sufficient healthful food.
Despite its prevalence, hunger is still a dark secret that many in our country do not fully realize. That’s why, in 2011, Eos decided to focus nearly all of our discretionary grantmaking for the next five years to significantly and sustainably diminish hunger throughout our state. My colleagues and I have spent the last nine months speaking to thought-leaders statewide and meeting with others throughout the country to develop our strategy for this $15 million dollar initiative.
We have learned a great deal from Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry programs in Colorado, Connecticut, and Maryland. And, in addition to the many anti-hunger and healthy food organizations that we have worked with over the years, we are identifying new partners in the private sector, among state and local governments, and from schools to join us in finding solutions.
As we rollout our grantmaking strategy, there are a few specific areas that we have identified as ongoing challenges.
First, our country needs to begin a national dialogue about the interconnection between hunger and obesity. We’ve heard time and again from friends, neighbors, elected officials, and civic leaders that they really don’t believe there is a hunger crisis. How can there be hunger when all we see and hear about is obesity? It’s in our national interest to promote this conversation. The anti-hunger, obesity, and food systems movements need to collaborate on systemic solutions that bring multiple strategies together to address this devastating epidemic.
Second, among the many groups working on hunger, nearly all of the focus is on individuals and families with incomes low enough to qualify them for public assistance. This is a good start, but we also need to address the following questions: What can we do about the working poor and those who aren’t eligible for SNAP and school food programs, but still can’t provide for themselves and their families on their incomes alone? How can we bring together the low-income, working poor, and middle class people who are experiencing hunger or the threat of hunger to recognize the need for solutions that work for everyone along the economic spectrum?
Finally, we’ve heard that feeding people is just a Band-Aid, not a systemic solution. Yet so much current medical research tells us that proper nutrition is the foundation of good health. Our children can’t excel in school when they are unable to focus on their work because they are hungry and poorly nourished. Workers can’t perform at their highest levels if they are hungry, as well as being worried about feeding their children.
At Eos, we believe that engaging civic, government, and private sector leaders to work with us in partnerships to discuss these issues will result in an effective plan to reduce hunger in our state. While the task of finding permanent solutions to fighting hunger is daunting, given how pervasive hunger is throughout our cities and towns, there is no better moment than now for us to come together as a Commonwealth and chart a new course.
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Andrea Silbert is the president of the Eos Foundation, a philanthropic foundation based in Harwich and Boston, Massachusetts.
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