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 ninth installment in the series, which is entitled “Ending Childhood Hunger in America.”
Betty Hood is a senior in Georgia trying to raise her two young grandchildren on a fixed income. Like nearly 50 million people across this country, she struggles to put food on the table. Before learning about a summer food program at the Tiftarea YMCA, Ms. Hood tearfully said there were days when she just didn’t know how she would make ends meet or be able to buy groceries to feed her grandchildren.
It is stories like Ms. Hood’s that underscore the urgency of addressing child hunger. More than 16 million U.S. children currently live in food insecure households, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These families too often confront a painful choice—pay bills, provide shelter, or put food on the table. To address this increasing need, nonprofits, foundations, government, and corporations must work together to make sure more children have access to the safety net programs that can provide them with the food they need to thrive.
With high poverty rates, significant unemployment, and rising gas prices, the need for food assistance for children is only increasing. This problem is compounded by severe budget cuts to national, state, and local programs. According to findings from the 2012 Y Community Snapshot, a YMCA of the USA commissioned survey of 1,000 U.S. adults, these cuts are affecting everyone. Seventy-two percent of Americans reported that budget cuts by government, social service agencies, and nonprofits have had a “negative impact” on them and their families. Nearly half - 45 percent - said budget cuts in food assistance have forced them to cut back, reduce, or do without important services, programs, and resources. This leaves many children without the food necessary to survive.
To overcome food insecurity, nonprofits, community organizations, foundations, and government must come together through focused public-private partnerships. These collaborations are imperative in our struggle to provide children with adequate, nutritious food.
As a leading nonprofit for strengthening community through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility, the Y has taken steps to create these partnerships. Through our anti-hunger work, we have collaborated with government, foundations, and corporate partners, and have learned some key lessons about how to effectively address child hunger.
First, we need nonprofits, foundations, and community organizations to work together with government if we’re going to make meaningful progress. For example, hundreds of Ys nationwide provide meals and snacks to underserved children through the federally funded Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Through the SFSP, organizations can provide around two federally-reimbursed meals a day to children aged 18 and under when school is out. Summer food programs, however, are severely underutilized. In the summer of 2011, only one in seven children who qualified for the National School Lunch Program – which provides food to low-income children during the school year – received meals through SFSP during the summer months, according to the Food Research and Action Center.
When nonprofits and community organizations utilize government programs, they are better able to meet the needs of our most vulnerable children. The government reimburses organizations who participate in SFSP for meals, making it possible to expand reach and feed more children. This means that stronger government partnerships don’t just benefit children in need; community groups and nonprofits also have a stake in the valuable funding these relationships provide.
Government, nonprofit, and community partnerships can also help improve public policy. Nonprofits and community organizations provide an on-the-ground perspective that policymakers may lack. When these groups work in collaboration with the government, they can create specific policies tailored to the needs of low-income children. The Y has been able to do just that. For example, the Hopkins County YMCA collaborated with its local school district and worked with its mayor on policy changes; now it provides meals in public housing projects across the county.
Second, successful partnerships between nonprofits, community organizations, and corporations also play a significant role in the fight against child hunger. Since 2011, the Walmart Foundation has awarded YMCA of the USA a total of $8 million to expand our child hunger relief efforts through increased participation in SFSP and CACFP’s Afterschool Meal Program. The Walmart Foundation grant has allowed some local Ys, such as Betty Hood’s Tiftarea YMCA in Georgia, to increase their SFSP participation rates by over 100 percent. These corporate funds not only help keep summer food programs open, they are also used to engage children in summer camp, arts, reading, and developmental activities to keep them healthy and nourished all summer long.
Through our partnership with the Walmart Foundation, more than 300 Ys served nearly five million healthy meals and snacks to more than 110,000 children in summer 2011. This year, we are expanding this effort to feed children in communities across the country all year long with an estimated eight million meals and snacks.
Public-private collaborations can work, and we need more of them if we are going to end child hunger in our communities. When we join the resources and expertise of business, government, foundations, and community organizations, we have a real impact—life-changing, life-improving impact. We all have a role to play— you can advocate for funding and collaborations, and help more of our children receive the nourishment they deserve. The lessons we have learned here at the Y offer a promising start to combating child hunger. But they’re just that—a start.
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Neil Nicoll is the president and chief executive officer of YMCA of the USA.
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of Spotlight. Spotlight is a non-partisan initiative, and Spotlight’s commentary section includes diverse perspectives on poverty. If you have a question about a commentary, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.