by Bob Lupton
I was having lunch at Ted’s Montana Grill the other day when a post card size picture of an adorable two year old girl with big brown eyes and cute little pigtails caught my attention. She was holding a small milk carton and sipping on a straw. Along the top of the picture in large red block letters were these words: 1 IN 5 KIDS IN AMERICA SUFFER FROM HUNGER. The small print requested that I donate $5 to No Kid Hungry to help reach the goal of providing three million meals to hungry children. As an added incentive, I would receive a $5 discount on my next meal at Ted’s. The slogan at the bottom of the card read: Dine out. Do good.
I flipped the card over to see the details on the back. “Every $1 provides up to 10 meals to kids in need,” it said. “Together we can end childhood hunger.” I was intrigued enough to do a little web checking when I got home. No Kid Hungry, I discovered, is a fund-raising initiative of Share Our Strength, Inc., a multi-million dollar non-profit based in Washington DC that does very effective fund-raising for hunger-related causes. They have secured an impressive array of supporters, from well-known celebrities to Fortune 500 corporations.
Their “let’s get to the root causes” marketing approach was very appealing. Their credentials appeared to be excellent – good ratings with the BBB, audited financials, reasonable transparency. But I couldn’t find any data describing how they actually feed children.
They started out originally as a fund-raising-grant-making initiative that primarily funded infrastructure for charitable organizations – new refrigeration units for food banks and new industrial ovens for soup kitchens, that sort of thing. Their idea was to focus on long-term solutions rather than immediate hunger needs. But this proved too slow a process, too hard to measure impact.
So they embarked on a bold mission to end childhood hunger in the US by 2015. Their strategy: get millions more kids signed up for free government meals. Their accomplishments have been substantial: hundreds of millions of dollars raised and hundreds of thousands of children enrolled in public food and nutrition programs. “Since summer 2011,” they claim, “we’ve helped connect children across the country to more than 28 million additional school breakfasts and 6 million additional summer meals."
I suppose that’s one way to end hunger – get the government to feed us. But honestly, I’m not buying the claim that I in 5 children in our country is severely deprived of food. It just doesn’t square with what I have seen in forty-plus years of inner-city work. Sure, kids miss meals, sometimes they have to eat peanut butter sandwiches at the end of the month, they eat way too much junk food, but I have never seen a child that was even close to starving.
Just visit a public school cafeteria. When you see how much food kids throw away, it’s hard to believe that we have a widespread epidemic of food-deprivation. The throw away waste of school meals tops $1 billion annually, according to some estimates. One study in Boston found that 40% of school lunches were tossed into the waste can. Students in LA schools, the nation’s second largest school system which serves 650,000 meals a day, throw out at least $100,000 worth of food every day. That amounts to $18 million a year by very conservative estimates. This doesn’t sound like a nation of hungry children to me.
That picture of the darling two-year old with the big brown eyes does touch a grandpa’s heart. It draws me in. I would give the $5 (or more) in a heartbeat if I knew she was being deprived of nourishing food and I could personally help. You bet I would. But $5 to help a polished, well-funded non-profit (even a well-meaning one) to enlist a generation of young people into an entitlement system that would only deepen their dependency? I don’t think so.