Time for Youth to Take Childhood Hunger and Nutrition Personally

August 12, 2015

Alexis Leary, Sodexo

As the summer winds down, so does my internship. I can’t help but wonder what college is going to be like when I return. Who’s going to be living in my residence halls? How long is the walk to my first class? What will my senior year be like? But for one in five school-aged children in America, they are wondering what will be served for lunch on the first day back. That’s because one of every five children in our rich and prosperous country is food insecure—they don’t know how or when they will receive their next meal.

Courtesy: Sodexo USA

Courtesy: Sodexo USA

This summer I had the opportunity to be a Government Affairs intern in Sodexo’s Future Leaders Program. My internship focused on researching child nutrition and hunger policies. It is a very pivotal time in our country – the authorizing law known as the Child Nutrition Act (CNA) expires September 30, 2015 and Congress is currently debating nutrition policies and funding. This important law sets the nutrition standards and funding for America’s children, especially those who desperately need assistance. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National School Lunch Program (part of CNA) provides approximately 31 million free of reduced-prices lunches a day. That is 31 million children who might otherwise go hungry.

As a college student at the University of Maryland, I participated in volunteer efforts to end hunger such as food drives and sweat equity at local food pantries and shelters. But until I began to delve into this issue at the national and policy level, I did not I fully understand that hunger and poor nutrition can be solved if society, and our nation’s leaders, placed morevalue on the long-term health and educational outcomes of our children. Even though I’m not in grade school, nor do I have children or siblings eating school meals; these policies are important to my generation’s future and security. In fact, it’s so important that I feel compelled to advocate for children and encourage others, especially my peers, to do the same.

I really want to encourage my generation to consider how they can make a difference in the fight against hunger. My “ten-year plan” is a work in progress. But after concluding my internship with Sodexo, I am looking at my future in a different way—by focusing on what I can do to help end childhood hunger. If we as a country or community or even as individuals can give children solid nutrition at school, imagine the positive impact that would have on our society, economy and the future of our country.

I am going back to college next week, but what I’ve learned this summer has instilled in me a passion to advocate for an end to childhood hunger as well as to encourage and involve other young people in this cause. There is no better time than now. Last week a bipartisan legislation called the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act was introduced in the Senate. Hunger does not end for children when summer starts and school lunch ends and this bill could end hunger for millions of children during the summer months. This, in addition to the upcoming CAN reauthorization, calls for childhood nutrition and hunger to be on the minds of our leaders. Top of mind is top priority—we should take action to show our leaders we care and want positive change. Making a difference can be as simple as learning about the issue, tweeting your congressman (example tweet: I want my congressman, @ChrisVanHollen, to fight for the food insecure kids of America), visiting your city council members, or sending an email to your senators. If you do not know you who your representatives are, finding out is as simple as typing in your address. When we show them we are committed to ending childhood hunger, they will be more aware, informed and able to make better decisions for our children.

So whether you’re just starting your career, moving back to your college campus, or just feeling sad that summer is ending, remember that there are 31 million children depending on school lunches and for many of them, this is their only steady meal. This means there are 31 million lives that can be directly impacted by your advocacy in support of child nutrition and hunger. It’s time for young people to take hunger personally.

Alexis Leary is a rising senior at the University of Maryland studying Government and Politics. This summer she was a Sodexo Future Leaders Intern on the Government Affairs team and worked on researching legislation related to nutrition and childhood hunger.