By JEFF BRIDGES
SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR
People throughout the world and even our own populace see food as the embodiment of America. The image is not unfounded; food is plentiful in our country, especially in Ohio where agriculture is the state's leading industry. Yet, today 129,000 children in Ohio experience the pain of hunger, and an additional 366,000 children live in households that are food insecure -- or at risk of going without the daily nourishment required to keep a child healthy in both mind and body.
As former chairman of Hunger Free America and the founder of the End Hunger Network, I have been a strong proponent of expanding existing school meal programs as a means to dramatically improve the health and well-being of our children. These federal child nutrition programs such as National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs serve as a critical hunger safety net. It is also why you as Ohioans will be seeing my image and hearing my voice on a number of Public Service Announcements on the issue of childhood hunger in your state through the work of Children's Hunger Alliance. Children's Hunger Alliance, a statewide non-profit agency, shares my belief that we can eliminate the effects of hunger in today's children through better utilization of the federal programs.
Tuesday is National Hunger Awareness Day, an attempt to bring consciousness to our country's hunger crisis. The day is designated to inform individuals, communities, corporations, and policy makers that hunger is a severe domestic issue but a "solvable" one as well. So here is something for all Ohioans to think about. Did you know that 500,000 low-income children utilize the free and reduced price school breakfasts, lunches and afterschool snacks that provide up to 50 percent of their daily nutrition. But what happens to these children when school lets out? Most people don't stop to ask how that nutrition gap is filled during the summer when school is not in session.
Children's Hunger Alliance is charged with making communities throughout Ohio aware of the USDA Summer Food Service Program, a fully funded federal program which makes meals available free to any child up to 18 years of age during the summer months.
One of the issues is that eligible kidsand families don't know that there are local meal sites or that they are eligible to participate. That's why about 13 percent of the kids who get a free/reduced price meal during the school year actually get a free summer meal. This year Ohio expects to have 1,200 meal sites located throughout the state.
I am lending my support to Children's Hunger Alliance summer meal awareness campaign which includes flyers in Medicaid checks, stuffers in grocery bags, bus signs, radio and television Public Service Announcements all touting 1-800-481-6885, a new toll-free automated system that allows the caller to locate a nearby free meal site. The added value to the summer meal program is that many of the sites offer fun activities which engage the children and help keep them in a safe supervised environment.
Our nation's children should not face hunger. I am asking Ohioans to join me to support the work of Children's Hunger Alliance. The agency offers activities, advocacy initiatives, volunteer opportunities, and events throughout the state to make sure children eat well, learn more and reach their full potential. By becoming more aware of the problem, you can be part of the solution. Join me at www.children'shungeralliance.org and make National Hunger Awareness Day, everyday in Ohio.
X Jeff Bridges, an actor, artist and musician, is the chairman of Hunger Free America and the founder of the End Hunger Network. Additional information about Hunger Awareness Day is available at www.hungerday.org.