Making NO KID HUNGRY America’s Reality

Those of us working to improve social conditions, like bringing about an end to hunger and poverty, tend to bring skills in fundraising, community organizing, politics, and marketing. But there is often one essential ingredient missing: storytelling.

Telling the stories of those we are trying to help is essential to build the political will necessary to solve a problem on the scale that it exists. Who better to supply that perspective than a great American actor whose passion for storytelling and social change intersect in 63 years of iconic screen roles?

Three summers ago I met the actor Jeff Bridges at the Goleta Boys and Girls Club near his home in California. He’d been a longtime champion of antihunger efforts since creating the End Hunger Network in 1983 and a mutual friend suggested we collaborate. We talked about our respective efforts over the years (I had started the national anti-hunger nonprofit Share Our Strength in 1984), what we’d learned about the most effective strategies, and the dire economic conditions that had led to so much hunger in this country. At one point Jeff said softly: “This feels like the moment we’ve been waiting for, this is our chance.” For me it was as dramatic a moment as anything I’d seen from him on the big screen and renewed my own sense of urgency.

Jeff agreed on the spot to be the national spokesperson for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry® campaign, which works to connect children at risk of hunger to healthy food where they live, learn and play. Since then, he’s carried our message to Governors, cabinet secretaries, Republicans, Democrats, the news media, corporate leaders, and others with strengths to share in this fight. He effectively articulates that childhood hunger is a solvable problem since we have food and nutrition programs that kids need, but must do more to ensure that kids can access such programs.

“National spokesperson” only covers a small slice of Jeff’s enormous contribution to our success. His genuine compassion, dedication, and authentic commitment have inspired thousands of people to join our cause, and to give of themselves in ways they previously might not have imagined. By putting childhood hunger on the map he made it attractive for hundreds of corporate partners to make this their priority issue. And nearly half a million Americans have responded to his appeal to support the No Kid Hungry campaign—you can join him at www.NoKidHungry.org/horizon.

“Man, he is cooler than the other side of the pillow,” one man swooned to me after meeting Jeff, by then an Academy-Award winning actor, at a No Kid Hungry event at the last Republican National Convention. Behind the scenes there is the occasional reference to movies he’s made, or directors with whom he’s worked, and such Hollywood gossip is always fun to be around. But Jeff spends almost the entire time asking hard and thoughtful questions about our strategy and about the conditions of hungry kids in America: “How close to success are we in our best state? What other governors are likely to be influenced by Governor O’Malley’s (Maryland) example? Who has the most credible information on SNAP beneficiaries? What strategies do schools use to eliminate the stigma of getting a free breakfast?”

Jeff brings his well known professionalism to a cause that is deeply personal. He once told me as an actor his job is to put himself in the shoes of other people, and that he’d imagined what it would feel like to be hungry or to not be able to feed his kids. That’s evident when Jeff speaks about No Kid Hungry. He’s speaking on behalf of the 16 million children in America at risk of hunger, who perform better on tests when they’ve had a healthy school breakfast, and whose families are able to stretch their food assistance dollars when they learn to shop and cook smart on a budget with the help of the No Kid Hungry campaign.

He’s said that working to end childhood hunger is the most significant thing he’s ever done. I know that his commitment won’t waiver until No Kid Hungry is a reality in America.

JEFF  CHANGED  THE  COURSE  OF  THE  NO   KID  HUNGRY  CAMPAIGN,  HELPING  US  TO   CONNECT  KIDS  WITH  OVER  34  MILLION   MEALS  IN  JUST  TWO  YEARS