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Bearing Witness to Deep Poverty and Inspirational Leaders in Arkansas

Some things are worth waiting for. Like the two days this week we spent in Arkansas.  It has been a high priority state for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. The National Commission on Hunger made it the site of its first field visit and second field hearing.

On the one hand the suffering of impoverished families across the state is palpable. 29% of the children live in poverty which puts Arkansas at 49th  worst in the nation. 40 percent of seniors are classified as food insecure.  In Pine Bluff, where the child poverty rate is 37% what passes for an after school rec center is a life saver for many teens but in dire need of renovation and resources.

We witnessed families lining up at fire stations and churches acting as makeshift food distribution centers for a once-a-month bag of food that will last no more than 3 days. The devastating loss of jobs in a changing economy, hunger, crime, and closing schools, are met by programs that barely keep up, let alone conquer the challenges.  

On the other hand, children and families across the state are benefitting from our No Kid Hungry campaign in ways so tangible, visible and measurable that you couldn’t miss it if you tried. At almost every site, and from the lips of every witness at the hearing held by the National Commission on Hunger – whether advocate or state cabinet official- were words of praise for Cooking Matters, our summer meals strategy, and our school breakfast work.  It was a day for pride in the service of each and every one of us at Share Our Strength.

 

At Martin Luther King elementary school we saw breakfast in the classroom in operation.  The efficient choreography of carts rolling down the halls, insulated bags and boxes being dropped off, and kids eating pancakes or cereal as they settled themselves for the day was state-of-the-art. 24 of 32 schools in Little Rock now offer breakfast after the bell.  

 

For me the takeaway from the trip is the need to resist the temptation to accept the unacceptable. Economic constraints and political division acclimate us to the notion that giving people just enough to get by is a reasonable standard. So we enable them to survive but certainly not thrive. Our political system aims interventions to hit somewhere above desperation but far below dignity. 

 

Thanks to our No Kid Hungry campaign, breakfast in the classroom, dedicated teachers, parents and administrators, and great local partners like the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, that won’t be the case for those kids at Martin Luther King elementary. After the pledge of allegiance, the students remained standing and recited this pledge too:

 

I pledge my loyalty to Dr. King’s dream by

Serving all humanity

To my school

To my teacher and by

Holding fast to my dreams

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