I was privileged to be part of a recent celebration in Little Rock, Arkansas. Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe hosted a press conference with Share Our Strength and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance to announce the achievements of the first year of their state-wide campaign to end childhood hunger.
Last October when the initiative was launched, Arkansas had the highest rate of childhood hunger in the nation. The governor was appalled and decided to do something about it. The Arkansas No Kid Hungry campaign kicked off with the main strategy of increasing participation in existing federal nutrition assistance programs. Their first-year goal was to increase participation in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by five percent, and to increase participation in the Summer Food Service Program by 10 percent.
With the cooperation of numerous partners and local organizations Arkansas surpassed these goals. SNAP caseload has increased by 24 percent compared to the 2009 baseline. Compared to 2010, children were served over 236,000 more meals this summer, and 88,000 more after-school meals in August. Arkansas first lady Ginger Beebe recently launched the Eat Healthy, Play Smart Challenge, with six schools participating in a breakfast-in-the-classroom pilot program.
In recognition of the state’s successes, Share Our Strength recently presented Arkansas the prestigious national leadership award at their annual conference. Arkansas is off to a great start, but there is still much to be done in the next few years of the campaign. It really takes a mix of partners all bringing different things to the table. In Arkansas it starts at the top with the governor and first lady. With that kind of support and influence, advocacy organizations Share Our Strength and Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance have brought together powerful partners and resources. Federal and state agencies provide funding and administration of the nutrition assistance programs. Non-profits like Midwest Dairy Council, and corporations, such as Tyson Foods and Walmart, contribute valuable resources to the effort. Then it all comes down to the caring and commitment of each local community.
I want to personally thank the local partners who started a new summer food service site or after-school meal program, schools that started breakfast programs, and all the outreach workers who helped enroll more eligible families on the SNAP program. Fully utilizing federal nutrition assistance programs is critical to ending childhood hunger. I am proud to be a part of this fine effort in Arkansas.