Children, Leadership

At 12 Below Zero, A New Year’s Day Like No Other

We awoke this New Year’s Day at Goose Rocks Beach in Maine to a temperature of -12 degrees (before calculating wind chill). I choose to take it as an omen that metrics once thought unimaginable are ultimately attainable.

From my window facing the ocean I see something I’ve never seen before.  The clouds are not in the clear blue sky but instead sitting on top of the water. The extreme temperature differential between Maine’s always cold ocean and the -12 degree air has created a steaming layer of clouds where air and water meet.   In front of the clouds, in the water close to shore swim five fat black ducks, as leisurely as if in the Bahamas. I envy their serenity in the face of extreme conditions and consider adding the aspiration to my new year’s resolutions. But serenity rarely accelerates change.

2018 promises challenging conditions for our work. Pundits speculate whether the political earthquake of 2016 will be sustained or turn out instead to have been an aberration that gets reversed and ends one party control of Congress and White House. For all of the prognosticating no one can be certain. Every prediction is sewn tightly to the caveat “of course, there’s never really been a time like this so who knows.”

What does it all mean for Share Our Strength and the children we serve? At least two things: First, preoccupation with a divisive midterm election campaign makes it unlikely our political leaders will get much done. Progress addressing basic human needs will depend on organizations like ours working with partners on the ground to protect existing services and better connect those most vulnerable to them.  State governments will continue to be critical to our strategy.

Second, in 2017 we staked a new claim that went beyond increasing percentages of kids participating in school meals. For the first time we asserted childhood hunger has been significantly reduced, with one-third fewer children experiencing hunger today.  (See our excellent year-end thank-you video)

It’s a bold claim but not a surprising one.  When you combine 3 million more kids getting school breakfast, with unemployment down to 4.1 percent, and USDA data showing record low levels of the “very low food security” that represents missed meals, we know that many kids, while still poor, and possibly even food insecure, at least are not hungry.

Still, this bold claim represents a significant departure for us. In addition to emphasizing the harmful consequences of kids not getting the nutrition they need, we are also helping our stakeholders better assess where we are in relationship to the finish line.  There is still a long way to go, but not nearly as long as before. The closer we get the more relentless we will strive to reach it, while also planning more comprehensively for what comes next once we do. In this way 2018 finds Share Our Strength on a new trajectory. Welcome back. Happy New Year. Stay warm. But not too serene.

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