Category Archives: School feeding

School meal programs are defense against child hunger

When he was campaigning for re-election in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt took time in Boston to talk about the country’s school lunch program. FDR said, “Milk does those children more good than political soothing syrup.”

As we celebrate National School Lunch Week, it should be a call to action to our political leaders to put aside partisanship and support child nutrition. It could not be more urgent. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 16 million children in the U.S. live in food-insecure households. Families are struggling to get food on the shelves.

Read the full article at the Cincinnati Enquirer

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Filed under global hunger, School feeding

National School Lunch Week: A Call to Action

When he was campaigning for re-election in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt took time in Boston to talk about the country’s school lunch program. FDR said “milk does those children more good than political soothing syrup.”

The U.S. has built up its school lunch program through the Great Depression, World War II and with the National School Lunch Act of 1946. (photo courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)

As we celebrate National School Lunch Week, it should be a call to action to our political leaders to put aside partisanship and support child nutrition. It could not be more urgent. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 16 million children in the U.S. live in food-insecure households. Families are struggling to get food on the shelves.

Our national school lunch and breakfast programs, which provide free or reduced price meals, serve as a critical line of defense against child hunger. Cincinnati, with the Children’s Hunger Alliance of Ohio and USDA, has set a great example by providing free breakfast for all its public school students K-12.

But when school is out, children living in poverty, especially during these tough economic times, are vulnerable. The charity Feeding America supports school pantries, which allow needy families to get take-home rations to fill in these gaps when schools are closed.

Jennifer Small of the Maryland Food Bank is working to establish such pantries in the Eastern shore of her state. The demand for food assistance there has grown. In fact, nationwide the demand for food assistance has gone up, making school pantries and other programs all the more vital.

Small says: “It is so important to ensure children are fed so they can thrive in school. By assisting them and their families with take-home rations for dinners and/or weekend meals, this helps keep them fed so they can concentrate and receive a well-rounded nutritional meal.”

An area of huge glaring weakness is the summer feeding program. Many children who get free or reduced price meals during the school year are unable to access them in the summer. The problem is how to distribute the food when schools are closed.

This is an area where political and community leaders need to work together so that when next summer comes, food assistance does not take a vacation. Hunger certainly does not take the summer off.

Feeding America reports: “During the 2010 federal fiscal year, 20.6 million low-income children received free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program. Unfortunately, just 2.3 million of these same income-eligible children participated in the Summer Food Service Program that same year.”

USDA says it is testing “home delivery of meals and a backpack food program for kids” on days when the summer feeding program is not available. Political leaders can encourage community-based solutions to summer feeding. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio has been very active in this regard.

As President Obama said when proclaiming National School Lunch Week: “Children are America’s greatest treasure, and ensuring their health is one of our most important duties as parents, families, and community members. Our children’s continued ability to learn in the classroom, grow up healthy, and reach their full potential will depend on what we do now to secure their future.”

School feeding has become integral to our country for generations now. No less important are school meals for children in other countries. For our foreign policy, we have to think of school feeding.

We did this after World Wars I and II, when the U.S. supported school feeding to help countries and their children through the harshest of times. American charities even helped provide meals in Nazi- invaded Norway so children’s nutrition did not suffer amid food shortages and the occupation. The reconstruction of Europe after the war included millions of school meals for children.

The U.S. Food for Peace and now the McGovern-Dole programs support school meals overseas. Haiti, for instance, has a school feeding initiative, which is essential to the recovery of the country. The UN World Food Programme, Haiti’s government and donations from the U.S., Brazil, Canada and others are making this program work.

The World Food Programme provides meals at this school UNICEF rebuilt after the earthquake. The U.S. Congress is debating whether to reduce food aid, including school meal initiatives like the McGovern-Dole program which supports Haiti. Currently U.S. spending on food aid accounts for less than one tenth of one percent of the entire federal budget. (WFP/Stephanie Tremblay)

But funding is always an issue. Sadly, proposed budget cuts by Congress will threaten our ability to provide school meals in developing countries. In Afghanistan, for example, there has been such low funding that the World Food Programme may be forced to cease its program feeding 2 million children. This has devastating consequences, because without nutrition and education, no society can advance and have peace.

We will all have a much brighter future if we ensure that all children around the world have access to school meals. As we celebrate National School Lunch Week, let’s remember nutrition is critical for children here and abroad.

Article first published as National School Lunch Week: A Call to Action on Blogcritics Magazine.

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Snow Leopard, Yeti Ask for Help in Building Global School Lunch Program

The Huffington Post just ran a story about the Yeti and whether scientists have found evidence of one of the creatures in Siberia. However, readers of my column know that the Yeti has been hard at work for the UN World Food Programme (WFP)  promoting an end to global hunger .

With his friend the Snow Leopard the Yeti was featured in the story and coloring book “The Snow Leopard, the Yeti and the Girl Who Climbed Mount Everest.” The Yeti and the Snow Leopard want kids and their parents to join them in supporting the WFP Fill the Cup Campaign to build a global school lunch program.

The Yeti and the Snow Leopard also issued praise for the McGovern-Dole School Lunch program which just sent food for schoolchildren in their home of Nepal. CNN reports the snow leopard has also been sighted recently in Afghanistan, where there is a tremendous shortage of school meals for children due to low funding for the World Food Programme.

 The Snow Leopard, the Yeti and the Girl Who Climbed Mount Everest (illustrated by Angie Espelage)

Story version and Coloring Book version

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Afghanistan 10 years later- Starvation Threatens War-Torn Country

October 7th marks the 10 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. And as if war has not been enough, famine is descending upon Afghans.

Drought has struck 14 provinces in Afghanistan. Crops have been ruined and food supplies are almost gone. The charity Oxfam says, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”

As famine conditions have strengthened, funding for UN World Food Programme (WFP) has diminished. The UN food agency relies entirely on voluntary donations.

WFP was forced to cut school meals for hundreds of thousands of Afghan children earlier this year. In a country deeply mired in poverty, school meals are a lifeline the children desperately need.

Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of hunger and malnutrition in the entire world. If this crisis, which is often ignored by policymakers, were given more attention many of Afghanistan’s ills could be remedied. For food is the foundation of peace, education and literacy, and maybe most of all hope. Hope and Afghanistan are two words not often associated.

There is talk of donor fatigue when it comes to Afghanistan and hunger relief in general, but this is nonsense. Food aid programs make up less than one tenth of one percent of the entire federal budget.

Congress has proposed reducing funding for the Food for Peace and other hunger fighting  programs. This is such a mistake when peace in Afghanistan and other parts of the world depend on fighting hunger.

After World War II, when a CARE package center was opened in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio people flocked there to buy food for hungry people overseas. The first one to do so was a former World War I infantryman.

The first World War saw immense human suffering from both warfare and the resulting famine, and this donor had compassion and first-hand understanding of their plight. Americans from that generation did not suffer from donor fatigue, and continued feeding the hungry during the war and afterwards. Following the Second World War millions more were saved, and Europe was rebuilt from the important foundation of food.

Today, we cannot forget about Afghanistan nor let the people suffer. On this 10 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, let’s work to win the peace. It can start with fighting hunger.

Article first published as Afghanistan 10 years later- Starvation Threatens War-Torn Country at Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Afghanistan, Congress, drought, global hunger, malnutrition, Oxfam, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme

Friendship Trains, Global Hunger and Plumpy’nut

Baby Food for the Friendship Train in 1947.

A group of Army personnel went on a special mission in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio in the fall of 1947. This group of soldiers was helping to load boxes of baby food onto a truck. The following day a train was to roll into Cincinnati to pick up the food. Its destination: Europe.

World War II was over, but the peace was not yet won. Millions of people in the war-devastated countries were suffering from food shortages. Harsh winters and drought had followed the war. Reconstruction still had a way to go. Children were at severe risk of stunted growth if they could not get the right nutrients.

Americans took action. The Friendship Train, as it was called, went from coast to coast picking up food like the baby formula. One of the great achievements in American history was helping to rebuild Europe after World War II, and the Friendship Train was part of this.

The world scene now is no different, in the sense that food is needed to win the peace. If children are hungry, action has to be taken.

What better way to do so than a Friendship Train of plumpy’nut heading toward the areas of suffering and conflict around the globe? Plumpy’nut is the special peanut paste that rescues children from life-threatening malnutrition. The key is to get plumpy’nut to every child at risk from malnutrition so they can be saved.

Low funding and lack of political will are often what prevents this. While there are many great efforts ongoing among the public to raise funds and promote plumpy’nut, getting all the political leaders on board is essential. It has to be a team effort, as Josette Sheeran, the World Food Programme’s director, often points out.

A Friendship Train of plumpy’nut today could rescue every malnourished child whether it’s in East Africa, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Afghanistan, Guatemala, or any of the other suffering countries. It’s critical to reach the children because without nutrition in the first thousand days of life, they suffer lasting physical and mental damage.

It is unacceptable that low funding prevents foods like plumpy’nut from reaching malnourished children. Food aid is relatively inexpensive when it comes to foreign policy spending. Global hunger-fighting programs make up less than one-tenth of one percent of the entire U.S. federal budget.

So let’s get the Friendship Train rolling. All aboard with plumpy’nut. Save lives and help an entire generation of children to be healthy and strong enough to overcome the challenges their country may face.

Article first published as Friendship Trains, Global Hunger and Plumpy’nut on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Books, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Europe, global hunger, History, malnutrition, plumpy'nut, School feeding, World Food Programme, World War II

Afghanistan: Drought Causes Severe Food Shortages for Millions

Over 7 million people suffer from hunger in Afghanistan, with many more bordering on the edge of food insecurity. Due to this year's drought and the reduced wheat harvest more Afghans will be now be joining the ranks of the hungry and food insecure. (WFP/Patrick Andrade )

Afghanistan is on the verge of a huge humanitarian disaster. Drought has ruined food supplies, and three million Afghans will face starvation if aid agencies do not have the resources in time to respond.

The charity Oxfam says , “The situation is made all the more urgent by the fact that most of the affected areas are inaccessible during winter, and will soon be cut off from any sort of assistance. Aid is needed now to ensure that families have the support that they need to see them through winter and to the next harvest.”

The lead agency in fighting hunger in Afghanistan, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is low on funding. WFP, which relies on voluntary donations from governments and the public, is about $200 million short for this year’s Afghanistan mission. WFP will require additional funds to feed more people suffering from hunger because of the drought.

The United Nations issued a report in July warning of the coming disaster. The UN stated, “The prediction of droughts in a protracted crisis country like Afghanistan is very worrying.”

For even before the recent drought took hold, Afghanistan was a country in a severe hunger crisis, with children suffering the most. The UN report summary highlights the startling numbers which show that “68% of the Afghan population is affected by some form of food insecurity with 31% food-insecure and 37% borderline food-insecure.” This means most Afghans struggle to get basic foods. Any shock like a spike in food prices, or disaster like drought, is devastating to Afghans who have little food.

For children the situation is gravest. In Afghanistan 40% of children under five years of age are underweight with 54% stunting. Children are struggling to get nutrition when they need it most in those early years. Children suffer lasting physical and mental damage from malnutrition in the first thousand days of life. With such poor health among its children, Afghanistan’s future is virtually doomed.

There is an ongoing war against hunger and want in Afghanistan. The drought is another fierce attack on an already vulnerable population. A major humanitarian crisis will take place this fall and winter in Afghanistan without interventions now. The Oxfam press release states, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”

Food prices have also been on the rise in Afghanistan, a huge blow to the drought-impacted areas. The UN says, “These additional stressors will affect these populations in addition to the 37% of the national population who are considered to be borderline food-insecure and who are currently planned to receive supplementary food support.”

It’s important to keep in mind that with WFP facing such low funding, school feeding and food for work projects have already been reduced. There are almost 500,000 children who lost their school meal ration because of this shortage. So these safety nets are currently not available to many Afghans at a time when they need them more than ever.

What Afghanistan needs now is a prompt intervention to save people from starvation in the coming months. What they also need are more long-term investments toward building the resiliency of communities facing drought.

Afghanistan cannot build a peace while its population suffers from hunger and want. No society can. The U.S. Congress right now is debating how much to fund its Food for Peace and other global hunger fighting programs. They need look no further than Afghanistan to understand how critical food assistance is to nations in crisis.

Article first published as Acting Now Can Save Afghans from Starvation on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Afghanistan, Congress, drought, global hunger, malnutrition, Oxfam, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme

Take Action To Save Hunger Fighting Programs from Budget Cuts

Yesterday, I spoke to a great class at the College of Mount St. Joseph about the fight against hunger, both at home and abroad. We talked about proposed budget cuts in the Congress to food aid programs.

Here are food aid programs at risk of budget cuts:

Domestic Food Aid:

TEFAP:  The Emergency Food Assistance Program which supports food bank across the country. If funding is reduced there will be less support at a time of high unemployment when more families need the support of food banks.

WIC- Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children.

Vicki Escarra of Feeding America says, “As Congress and the Administration look for ways to reduce the federal deficit, it is more critical than ever to protect funding for nutrition programs that provide the first line of defense against hunger in America.”

International Food Aid:

Food for Peace: This is the primary tool the U.S. has in fighting global hunger. This program was started during the Eisenhower administration and has saved countless lives and promoted stability worldwide.

McGovern-Dole program: This is geared toward international school meals. Agencies like Catholic Relief Services, World Food Program and others apply for McGovern-Dole funding to run school lunch programs in developing countries.

Here is an excerpt from an interview I did with Nora O’Connell of Save the Children discussing international food aid:

“For every one dollar that the U.S. government spends, roughly one-tenth of one penny goes towards food aid.

Completely eliminating food aid would do virtually nothing to impact either our debt or deficit. And it would not relieve Congress of the need to make the difficult choices required to alleviate the debt crisis. As Congress decides exactly where to make cuts, we urge them to do what’s right for children. Disproportionate and unjustified cuts not only hurt children today, they put our future at risk and move America further away from its values.

The best way to help prevent these cuts is to get in touch with Congress and let them know that programs that fight hunger and poverty are important. Individuals can call, write, email, or tweet their members of Congress and ask that they protect funding for international hunger- and poverty-fighting programs. Communication from constituents is critical to building support for programs that protect children and families across the globe, and help build a more stable and healthy world.”

You can reach your elected officials by visiting www.house.gov and www.senate.gov. You can let them know what you expect them to be doing about food aid both at home and abroad.

Catholic Relief Services says “Your action is particularly important now because the funding levels for FY 2012 will become the template for decisions about how much the U.S. invests in life-saving poverty-focused assistance for the next decade. Your voice is critical now to support poverty-focused international assistance so that life-changing and life-saving interventions can continue to reach those who need it most.”

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Filed under advocacy, Africa, Catholic Relief Services, Congress, Feeding America, Save the Children, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger