Like a broken street light, childhood hunger impacts the well-being of the community and will only be fixed when the local community recognizes it, takes an interest, and decides to address it. When those who care come together, pool their talents, and take advantage of available resources, things start to happen. Things get fixed.
The city of Dallas is getting serious about ending childhood hunger. Just a month after the October kick-off of the No Kid Hungry Texas campaign, local leaders came together for a hunger summit in Dallas in November. The diverse line-up of speakers was inspiring! There were leaders from Congress, all levels of government, faith-based organizations, food banks, non-profit organizations and schools. Every speaker was passionate and convincing about the need and ability to end childhood hunger.
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson co-sponsored the Dallas Hunger Summit with Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative. In her welcoming remarks Johnson mentioned her work with school breakfast legislation in the 1970s. Her passion for feeding children is still evident in her commitment to end hunger in her district.
Bill Ludwig, regional administrator for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, reminded the audience that the most effective way to end hunger is to fully utilize existing assistance programs. These include school lunch and breakfast, the Summer Food Service Program, WIC and SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called the Food Stamp Program. The federal nutrition safety net is the first line of defense, and available to all who need it.
One of the key messages of the day came from Texas Hunger Initiative Executive Director Jeremy Everett, the source of the broken street light theory. He explained that hunger is not a resource issue, but a logistical one. It’s a matter of connecting the right people. The Texas Hunger Initiative is forming a food planning association in Dallas to tap into available resources and make connections.
Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission Director Suzii Paynter brought us all back to the heart of the matter. She told a story that opened eyes to the often silent suffering of hungry kids. As a former teacher, Paynter said one student would come up to her every day and ask for a pencil. She gave him one without question so he could do his work. Feeling exasperated one day, she finally asked the boy what happened to all the other pencils. She was mortified to learn he was so hungry that he ate the erasers off each pencil. This shocking story tugged at everyone’s heart.
Another person who understands childhood hunger is Dora Rivas, executive director of Food and Child Nutrition Services for Dallas Independent School District. She spoke out for breakfast, which children from low-income families may not get at home. Increasing participation in the School Breakfast Program is one of the goals of the No Kid Hungry Texas initiative.
At the conclusion of the summit, I was inspired and convinced that this community is coming together to end childhood hunger. There will soon be no more broken street lights and no more hungry children.