Even when our economy is malnourished, there are those who want to make sure everyone is fully fed.

Last night at Taste of the Nation New Haven, nearly 400 people gathered at the Omni Hotel for a huge culinary gala to raise money to end childhood hunger.

Sponsored by Share Our Strength, a national organization dedicated to making sure that the 12.4 million (one in six) children at risk for hunger in America fill their plates, Taste of the Nation New Haven is just one of more than 45 Taste of the Nation benefits taking place in cities across the country this year. All of the proceeds from ticket sales are donated to local and national charities. “We’re going to make sure no kid in America goes hungry,” said Pat Nicklin, managing director of Share Our Strength. “We’re going to make sure that every kid gets three nutritious meals a day, and that our grants go to programs that make that happen.”

This is particularly important in New Haven, where 80 percent of public school students are on free and reduced-lunch plans, said Timothy Cipriano, director of food services for New Haven Public Schools. Taste of the Nation New Haven will sponsor such local charities as CitySeed, the Connecticut Food Bank and End Hunger Connecticut.

The New Haven benefit, which is now in its 20th year, featured acclaimed French chef and cookbook author Jacques Pepin, who also served as the event’s honorary co-chair. At a champagne-tasting and book-signing before the main event, Pepin promoted his new cookbook, “More Fast Food My Way,” the proceeds of which will be donated to Taste of the Nation. When I asked him why he got involved, the sprightly chef now hailing from Madison, Conn., responded: “We like to feed people. If we can help, why not?”

The main event took place inside the Omni’s Grand Ballroom. Table stands served donated food and drinks from New Haven County restaurants, such as Atticus, Barcelona and Caseus, and other local food-service providers, including Yale Dining. Staffed by Yale Iron Chef winners Courtney Fukuda ’12 and Sarah Diehl ’09, the Yale Dining table featured homemade organic blue corn tortillas and slow-roasted pork shoulder. Commenting on the more than 30 restaurants that donated their time and products to the event during an economic recession, Fukuda noted: “It says a lot about the restaurants and organizations that came out. It was about community.”

Tim Scott, executive chef at Geronimo Southwest Grill, one of the restaurants that provided food for the event, echoed this point. “It’s a way for us to give back to the community,” he said.

Guests were also enthusiastic to help out. “It’s always nice if you can go somewhere and have a good time, for a good cause,” said Vincent F. Ferrucci of Ferrucci Fine Men’s Clothiers on Elm St.

Diane Dawson of Guilford, Conn., agreed. “We’re all can-do people. We’re all trying to help others get through the recession. And this makes it easy,” she said.

Hartford will host a Taste of the Nation benefit on May 7. Since its start 20 years ago, Taste of the Nation has raised more than $70 million for anti-hunger organizations around the country.