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bearing witness to John Kennedy’s first action on hunger

This weekend we took Nate to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester. It was a bitter cold day and we mostly had the place to ourselves. Nate’s been asking a lot of questions about the Kennedy family since the heavy press coverage in Boston of Senator Kennedy’s death. This seemed like a good way to combine an educational activity with the strategic imperative of getting out of the house for a few hours.

Many of the exhibits are about John Kennedy’s youth and early career. When we got to the section about his election as President, there was a wall of front pages from newspapers across the country, many reporting on Inauguration Day. Rosemary noticed that the Washington Examiner’s headline was the only one not to refer to his Inaugural Address but rather to his first act as president: signing his first executive order “providing for an expanded program of food distribution to needy families.” I asked Alice to track it down and the full text of the executive order follows below.

With Russia, Cuba, Vietnam, civil rights, the space program and other pressing matters waiting for him in the oval office, this was what John Kennedy chose to do first. It is a historical footnote of which I was unaware. But 50 years later let’s hope it has the power to inspire another idealistic president to match words with deeds, and to take every action necessary to ensure that America fulfills his pledge to end childhood hunger by 2015.

Executive Order 10914
January 21, 1961


Whereas one of the most important and urgent problems confronting this Nation today is the development of a positive food and nutrition program for all Americans;

Whereas I have received the report of the Task Force on Area Redevelopment under the chairmanship of Senator Douglas, in which special emphasis is placed upon the need for additional food to supplement the diets of needy persons in areas of chronic unemployment;

Whereas I am also advised that there are now almost 7 million persons receiving some form of public assistance, that 4.5 million persons are reported as being unemployed and that a substantial number of needy persons are not recipients in the present food distribution program;

Whereas the variety of foods currently being made available is limited and its nutritional content inadequate; and

Whereas despite an abundance of food, farm income has been in a period of decline, and a strengthening of farm prices is desirable.

NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, it is ordered as follows:

The Secretary of Agriculture shall take immediate steps to expand and improve the program of food distribution throughout the United States, utilizing funds and existing statutory authority available to him, including section 32 of the Act of August 24,1935, as amended (7 U.S.C. 612), so as to make available for distribution, through appropriate State and local agencies, to all needy families a greater variety and quantity of food out of our agricultural abundance.

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