When model and activist Lauren Bush was working as a student ambassador with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in 2006, she designed a tote bag to raise money and awareness for the WFP’s School Feeding Program, which provides food and education to children around the world suffering from hunger. That bag was similar to those used by the WFP to distribute food. It was the beginning of FEED, which has so far served over 60 million meals worldwide.
FEED is working to help tackle a problem that affects one billion people throughout the world. Nineteen million of them are in “developed countries” according to the World Health Education Service (WHES). Almost 17 million American children lived in food insecure homes in 2011, according to Feeding America.
Here are some facts:
- Hunger is the #1 health risk in the world, and kills more people every year than AIDS/HIV, malaria and TB combined.
- 65% of the world’s hungry people live in just seven countries: Bangladesh, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
- Lack of food is NOT the leading cause of hunger. Poverty, war, climate change, increasing food prices, lack of agricultural infrastructure, and natural disasters are the leading causes of hunger – but primarily poverty.
- 60% of the world’s hungry are women, who are disproportionately affected because they bear the greater responsibility for feeding their families, and often will go without food themselves in order to feed their children.
In 2007, Lauren Bush (who is the granddaughter of U.S. President George H.W. Bush and niece of President George W. Bush) founded FEED Projects with Ellen Gustafson, a food activist and former spokesperson for the WFP. The mission was to raise money and provide support for the WFP’s school feeding efforts. Its work includes school feeding programs both in the U.S. and around the world, as well as assistance during natural disasters and humanitarian crises.
FEED Projects, in addition to its trademark bags, now sells t-shirts, bracelets, teddy bears, along with other accessories and apparel. The group has partnered with such retailers as Harrod’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Godiva, Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, Lord & Taylor, and Nordstrom to sell their products. FEED Projects uses “environmentally-friendly and artisan-made materials, along with fair-labor production” in the making of their products. This is how most of the money is raised for FEED’s work.
The FEED efforts did not stop there. In 2008, the FEED Foundation was started to support programs and organizations working to fight hunger and malnutrition around the world. The FEED Foundation and FEED Projects provide food (from local farmers and businesses if possible), vitamins, micronutrients, and health supplies with the money raised.
Their emphasis is on school meals because it is “one of the most effective solutions to ending hunger and breaking the cycle of poverty.” The meal programs encourage families to send their children to school, especially girls who might not otherwise attend. The FEED Foundation has a number of different funds, each with a specific focus, such as people with HIV/AIDS, and those living in war-torn areas such as Sudan and Congo. Donors can choose which one(s) to contribute to.
The need at home was also something that the organization wanted to address. FEED USA was started to provide access to nutritious foods and to help educate schools and children about good food choices in the U.S. FEED USA partnered with DonorsChoose.org, an online charity, to provide funds for teachers’ food and nutrition-related classroom interventions. These include blenders for making fruit smoothies, school gardens, salad bars, and more. So far, FEED USA has helped fund 354 classroom projects, reaching nearly 30,000 students.
Lauren Bush (who married designer Ralph Lauren’s son David in 2011, and is now Lauren Bush-Lauren), said in a recent interview on Fox News that although she started out working on hunger programs in other parts of the world, “I was always aware that there was such a need here as well.” Noting that with the recession and continued economic difficulties for many Americans, “It’s really the right time to start paying attention to this issue and helping out.” The organization recently participated in a Run 10 Feed 10 event, where participants in major cities throughout the U.S. did a 10K run to provide ten meals in their own city.
The increase in federally-subsidized school meals reflects the seriousness of the child hunger problem in the U.S. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition programs strive to provide a “nutritional safety net for children.” In addition to the school lunch programs, the USDA also has a School Breakfast Program (SBP) that provides assistance to states to run non-profit breakfast programs in schools and residential child care institutions.
For some impoverished areas, even that is not enough. Thanks to a federal program that is allocating $641 million over ten years, schools in America’s poorest areas can now provide dinner to their students. A report last month on the NBC Nightly News spotlighted Doddridge County Elementary School in West Virginia, where more than 25% of children are at or below the poverty level. In 120 out of 700 schools throughout the state, over half of the students qualify for federally-subsidized school dinners. In the report, Bonnie Allman, School Nutrition Coordinator, discussed the need for this third meal provided at the school. “Some children, when they leave here at the end of the day, they don’t eat another meal until they come in in the morning.”
To qualify for the school dinners, children must be enrolled in an after-school academic program. According to Principal Tammy Haught, classroom performance has increased, and discipline problems have decreased.
These dinners may be feeding more than the students in the school. School Cook Elizabeth Sarbine noted, “Some of these kids will ask for seconds, because you know that there’s a sibling at home that hasn’t eaten yet.” That is echoed by Alexandra Ashbrook, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions in the nation’s capital, where approximately ten thousand kids are receiving dinner at school. They too have noted that in some cases, children were “taking food home to feed their families.”
While some may worry about the effects of children not eating any meals at home, as Sarbine noted, “We’ve gone a long way since Leave it to Beaver….Kids can’t go to bed hungry.”
Courtesy Image: Feed Projects