A statewide partnership between government officials and community leaders is promising children a healthy start to life.
The Connecticut No Kid Hungry campaign, part of a national initiative to end child hunger by 2015, kicked off at the Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown, Conn., last Wednesday. Among the government officials present at the event were Gov. Dannel Malloy, State Representative and Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan and State Sen. Donald Williams, who emphasized the link between nutrition and hunger.
“Someone who is hungry is not ready to learn, is not ready to fulfill their potential during crucial years of learning,” said Williams. “And from a nutrition point of view, children who are not eating enough or not well are putting their long-term health at risk.”
Williams said the program’s three-prong mission included increasing students’ participation in federal free food programs by 10 percent by 2012, creating a Spanish and English website to increase access to information on summer meal providers and providing grants to organizations to start or expand summer programs. The No Kid Hungry campaign is spearheaded by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization that works in collaboration with End Hunger Connecticut!
“It’s the cooperation of public and private sources to hook up the kids and the families with the food,” Donovan said.
Children who are eligible for federal free food programs are “[children] aged 18 and under and from families at or below the 185 percent federal poverty level,” said Lucy Nolan, executive director for End Hunger Connecticut! Williams said while 32,000 children fit the eligibility description in the nation, only about 26 percent of them are taking advantage of federally funded programs such as the After School Supper Program, or the Summer Meals Program. The problem is mainly due to lack of information, an issue which Share Our Strength and End Hunger Connecticut! together hope to address through publicity generated by the campaign, Nolan said.
She added that children who are currently on free or reduced-cost meal plans — and are not registered for after-school or summer meal plans — seek alternative food sources such as soup kitchens or food pantries organized by local churches.
“I don’t think anyone should have to rely on food pantries; all of us want to know that we have safe food nutritious food that we can count on. It’s a different feeling,” she said.
Williams also said the program will direct children toward a healthier balanced diet, which also leads to healthier adult lives. He added this will help cut future health care costs and enhance the quality of life for the future generations.
Furthermore, the No Kid Hungry Campaign will not only benefit children, but also vitalize the local economy.
“There are a lot of kids that are not getting the food they need, and also grocers and food producers not getting the business they can use. The target is to reduce that and bring those dollars into our state,” said Donovan. “The money comes, it gets food and it gets the business.”