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A Place at the Table for Childhood Hunger in America

It’s a crisis happening in our own backyards, yet most people are not even aware of it—or understand its implications to the future of our...

It’s a crisis happening in our own backyards, yet most people are not even aware of it—or understand its implications to the future of our country.

One in five children in our own nation go hungry. For one in five kids in America, food is a constant worry. Every day more than 16 million children don’t know where there next meal will come from. Their daily struggle not only impairs their physical health, but their mental development.

A year back, when I started as the Executive Director of the Arby’s Foundation, I found myself seeking the evidence around this astonishing statistic. The mission of the Arby’s Foundation is to work to end childhood hunger in America. Fresh on the job, I had a hard time understanding what “childhood hunger” looked like in our nation. Certainly, I had seen images of starvation halfway around the globe, but hunger in my own country? My own community? What did it look like? Why, in a nation notorious for its abundance of food, is any child going hungry?

After meeting with prominent governors and other political figures, hearing from skilled teachers and anti-hunger experts, it was a letter I received from a childhood friend that delivered my answer. My friend—acknowledging the work I had done with Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign—decided to share her own struggles with hunger as a child. It changed me.

Here was a person with whom I walked the halls every day in middle school and high school, and I had no idea—no clue she was starving. In her letter, she wrote about the most vulnerable and scary times of her youth, going days with no more than a slice of toast.

That day she closed the letter with: “I know how hard it is, and I know how much a child's instinct is to keep it a secret.” When I read these words, I knew I had to stop looking for it. If I couldn't see it when it walked next to me every day, I wasn’t going to see it now.

Hunger exists in every community, and the fight to end it looks differently in every neighborhood. What hunger looks like today for our nation’s future is what we should focus on looking for. Kids who are hungry are more at risk for health problems, delayed cognitive development, and ultimately hindered academic performance. This crisis is not just an appetite issue. It’s an education issue; a health issue; a future workforce issue.

We cannot afford to let any of our nation’s children grow up hungry. The Arby’s Foundation is working closely with Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign to lead the effort to end childhood hunger in America. But we cannot do this alone. We all need to come together and lead this fight.

Childhood hunger may not have a face, but it does have a voice. My friend shared her story, and that is one voice for the movement. And you are citizen with a voice: You can end childhood hunger.

This Holiday season is a perfect time to share your voice around the dinner table, and talk about this unspoken problem. Here are some ideas:

Set a chair at your Thanksgiving table that is empty to symbolize the child who goes hungry every day in America.

Visit and sign the pledge to end childhood hunger.

Find your local food bank and ask about volunteering to help kids and families during the holidays when school is out.

Illustration by Corinna Loo

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