Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack kicked off the “Virginia No Kid Hungry Campaign” to an audience of hundreds on Tuesday at Barcroft Elementary School in Arlington. Their goal: to end childhood hunger in Virginia by 2015.
“Together we’re going to end child hunger right here in Virginia and everywhere else in America,” said Bridges, the “No Kid Hungry” national spokesman.
Hunger is a problem in many parts of America, especially during a recession. More than 337,000 Virginia schoolchildren received free or reduced lunch during the 2008-2009 school year, but only 18 percent also took advantage of the Virginia Summer Meals For Kids program.
“About 12% of Virginia’s children don’t go to school every day having a good meal, or they go home hungry,” said McDonnell. “And we can do a lot of things about that.”
The national organization “Share Our Strength” leads the initiative and has support from 12 other states, including Maryland, Colorado and Florida. In Virginia, “Share Our Strength” partnered with the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, which feeds more than 1 million people annually by providing food to more than 1,900 member agencies throughout the Commonwealth.
Food banks have also been hit hard in recent years - donations are down and assistance requests are up. “Child hunger affects many in our community, and schools and food banks are on the front lines in this fight,” said Leslie Van Horn, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks.
The first phase of the campaign includes targeted advertising and outreach to teach students and parents about free food opportunities. Parents can call 211 to find a summer meals site in their community.
“After school gets out, there’s that period called summer vacation,” said Vilsack. “From June to August, the question is: What happens to these young people who have been getting school breakfast and school lunch?”
Bridges, who won an Academy Award last year, founded the End Hunger Network in 1984. He said the success of the campaign depends on children informing their parents.
“And you kids. You’re an important element. We’re really going to need you guys… to spread the word, you know?” Bridges said. “If you guys are hungry this summer or know any kids who are hungry…what number are you going call? 211!”