Childhood hunger is an invisible but very real problem not only in Georgia, but in every single one of our states. Although there is not a lack of food in our country, more than 16 million children can’t count on the nutritious meals they need to lead healthy, active lives.
Here in Georgia, more than 700,000 children are at risk of hunger. Hunger impairs their health and their ability to learn, and predisposes them to emotional and behavioral difficulties that can negatively affect their families and our communities for years to come.
Although we have had adequate child nutrition programs to surround our most vulnerable children with nutritious meals at school, after school and in the summer, these programs reach only a fraction of the children who qualify for them. The problem is that we have for too long lacked big-picture strategies to overcome the barriers that keep kids from getting the food they need.
It is our responsibility to make government work better for our children, but these programs are underutilized for various reasons – stigma, red tape, transportation challenges, and systems – and are too often handled piecemeal by a confusing array of public and private agencies. The end result: Hundreds of thousands of kids in Georgia grapple with hunger, especially after school and during summer when they don’t have access to food at school.
On Nov. 16, Georgia joined the ranks of 14 other states that have committed to ending childhood hunger with the launch of the Georgia Feeding for a Promising Future – No Kid Hungry Campaign. Like its counterparts in other states, our campaign effort involves broad public-private partnerships and comes at a critical point given our current national economic climate.
The Georgia Feeding for a Promising Future – No Kid Hungry Campaign is designed to connect Georgia’s most vulnerable children with food where they live, learn, and play. And it does so in a way that makes fiscal sense for our state. This public-private partnership is leveraging both private and public funding to ensure more children have access to food and nutrition programs.
The business community plays a key role in advancing these anti-hunger efforts. In addition to national commitments, The ConAgra Foods Foundation and the Walmart Foundation, along with support from the Arby’s Foundation, are supporting efforts to help end childhood hunger in our state.
Increasing participation in the programs also increases the flow of previously authorized and appropriated funds to our communities. These funds stimulate our economy and provide long-term benefits to our state.
Through this innovative partnership, we are creating a coalition of officials and organizations that are responsible for or can help connect kids to child nutrition programs. Once assembled and motivated by a common desire to help our kids succeed, the group will work to develop strategies that will surround our most vulnerable kids with nutritious food. By sharing resources, developing specific goals and timelines, allowing nonprofits and corporations to share their strengths, and implementing a strategic plan, we will build a campaign that can end child hunger.
In addition to connecting kids to the public and private programs that provide food, other No Kid Hungry Campaign efforts include a nutrition education component that empowers families at risk of hunger to help themselves and create lasting change through Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters TM program. Through hands-on courses, families learn how to make healthy food choices and how to get the most out of limited resources.
The fight against child hunger has long enjoyed bipartisan support, and I implore more government agencies and businesses to support No Kid Hungry efforts for the long-term future of our state and country. This innovative public-private partnership demonstrates what a little ingenuity can achieve, even in the toughest of times, to help our most vulnerable kids.
Nathan Deal is the Governor of Georgia and a former member of the United States House of Representatives from Georgia’s ninth district.