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Bridges speaks out to end childhood hunger

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by J. Okray, Medill News Service
Washington (UPI) Nov 10, 2010
Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges took on a new role Wednesday -- chief advocate for a campaign to end childhood hunger in America in five years.

Bridges said the U.S. government doesn't need to create new programs to eliminate hunger among kids but it does need to expand them.

"There's good news, we have programs that we know work," said Bridges. "The problem is that they are not reaching enough kids."

Bridges spoke at the National Press Club as spokesman for the No Kid Hungry campaign created by nonprofit Share Our Strength to end childhood hunger in America by 2015 -- an idea backed by U.S. President Barack Obama during his run for president.

An estimated 17 million American children suffer from hunger in some form, according to 2008 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Agriculture Department offers many programs to offset childhood hunger. About one-in-five families participate in the programs, which provided $60.7 billion in fiscal 2008, up 11 percent from the previous year.

The top five programs -- food stamps, now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; the National School Lunch Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; the Child and Adult Care Food Program; and the School Breakfast Program -- all expanded in 2008 to accommodate the rising number of eligible people. The Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill, which includes the programs, is up for reauthorization in Congress. It expired in September 2009 and got a one-year renewal.

Next week, the Agriculture Department is expected to release the 2009 statistics on hunger in the United States.

"There are many issues this country is in disagreement about," Bridges said. "Eradicating childhood hunger is not (among them)."

Joining the move to end childhood hunger is the "most significant thing I have ever done," he said, with tears in his eyes.

Patricia Nicklin, managing director of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization fighting child hunger, said her group is reaching a growing number of people. "The challenge is that the pie of those in need has grown."

Some barriers to reaching hungry children are transportation, shame, lack of awareness of programs and an application process that may be confusing, especially to members of households where English isn't the primary language spoken, said Nicklin.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley was on hand because his state is the first to partner with Share Our Strength. He said working with the nonprofit allows the state to fill in the gaps of children left in need.

He plans to enroll a few hundred families and children in the existing programs every two weeks. "Then looking back a year or two later, you see the difference," he said.

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