Childhood hunger is an invisible but very real problem not only in Georgia, but in every state. Although our country does not lack food, more than 16 million children can’t count on the nutritious meals they need to lead healthy, active lives.
In Georgia, more than 700,000 children are at risk of hunger. Hunger impairs their health and ability to learn, and predisposes them to emotional and behavioral difficulties that can negatively affect their families and our communities for years to come.
Although we have adequate child-nutrition programs to surround our most vulnerable children with nutritious meals at school, after school and in the summer, these programs reach only a fraction of the children who qualify for them. The problem is that we have for too long lacked big-picture strategies to overcome the barriers that keep children from getting the food they need.
It is our responsibility to make government work better for our children, but these programs are underutilized for various reasons — stigma, red tape, transportation challenges and systems — and are too often handled piecemeal by a confusing array of public and private agencies. The result: Hundreds of thousands of kids in Georgia grapple with hunger, especially after school and during summer when they don’t have access to food at school.
This past week, Georgia joined the ranks of 14 other states that have committed to ending childhood hunger with the launch of the Georgia Feeding for a Promising Future — No Kid Hungry Campaign. Our effort involves broad public-private partnerships and comes at a critical point given our current national economic climate.
Our campaign is designed to connect Georgia’s most vulnerable children with food where they live, learn and play. And it does so in a way that makes fiscal sense, leveraging private and public funds to ensure that more children have access to food programs.
The business community plays a key role in advancing these anti-hunger efforts. The ConAgra Foods Foundation and the Walmart Foundation, along with support from the Arby’s Foundation, are supporting efforts to help end childhood hunger in our state.
Increasing participation in the programs also increases the flow of previously authorized and appropriated funds to our communities. Through this innovative partnership, we are creating a coalition of officials and organizations that can help connect kids to child nutrition programs. By sharing resources, developing specific goals and timelines, allowing nonprofits and corporations to share their strengths, and implementing a strategic plan, we will build a campaign that can end child hunger.
Other campaign efforts include a nutrition education component that empowers families to help themselves through a cooking program. Families learn how to make healthy food choices and to get the most out of limited resources.
The fight against child hunger has long enjoyed bipartisan support, and I implore more government agencies and businesses to support No Kid Hungry efforts for the long-term future of our state and country.
Nathan Deal is governor of Georgia.