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End hunger in Montana

Childhood hunger is an invisible but very real problem not only in Montana, but in every state. More than 16 million children in the U.S., including more than 48,000 in Montana, can't count on the nutritious meals they need to lead healthy, active lives.

When children go hungry, they often suffer from a series of health and educational setbacks. Studies show that kids who face hunger are sick more often, are more likely to be hospitalized and suffer from growth and developmental impairment. They also do more poorly in school and have lower academic achievement because they are not prepared to learn in the classroom. So, they fall behind in virtually every way.

Tom Nelson

Often, hard-working families who can't afford enough food either don't know about assistance that is available to them, or they are too embarrassed to ask for help. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Montana children are not hungry because we lack food in this country of ours. They are not hungry because we lack programs that provide meals. They are hungry because they lack access to those programs.

It is our responsibility to make government work better for our children, but these programs are underutilized for various reasons — stigma, red tape and transportation challenges — and are too often handled piecemeal by a confusing array of public and private agencies. The result: thousands of kids in Montana grapple with hunger, especially after school and at home when they don't have access to school meals.

That's why Share Our Strength is partnering with Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to launch the Montana No Kid Hungry partnership.

Montana is one of 18 states with a No Kid Hungry initiative where we are working with elected officials, corporate partners, government agencies, nonprofits and schools to raise awareness and promote proven strategies that connect more families to programs that surround them with nutritious meals where they live, learn and play.

Montana No Kid Hungry will focus on getting more families participating in the At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly Food Stamps; and the Women, Infants and Children Program, or WIC.

Share Our Strength has invested $145,000 in the Montana No Kid Hungry initiative, because we know that targeted investments made to raise awareness and increase participation can mean more funding for these successful childhood hunger programs in Montana.

In 2008, Montana missed out on $19.6 million in additional funding for SNAP because of low participation. Similarly, low enrollment in the WIC program caused Montana to also miss out on additional national funding. The USDA estimated that while 45,000 women were eligible for WIC, less than half of those women participated in the program.

This investment in Montana No Kid Hungry will provide grants and technical assistance to organizations that start up or expand afterschool meal programs in Montana. The partnership will connect more eligible families to SNAP-Education through Montana State University to help them learn how to shop for groceries and cook affordable and healthy meals on a tight budget. The initiative will also increase participation in the WIC program by providing greater access, outreach and support to local WIC clinics, as well as increase fruit and vegetable voucher usage.

In addition to these programs, there is a network of community-based organizations across Montana that is working every day to help make sure that no child in Montana goes hungry. DPHHS, in partnership with Share Our Strength, is committed to bringing more resources to the table, developing strategies to strengthen existing programs, and building on public-private partnerships to sustain Montana No Kid Hungry.

The first step to fixing any problem is to acknowledge that there is one. In this case, the statistics tell the story loud and clear: Childhood hunger is a reality in Montana, and across the country. Ending the silence will help end childhood hunger. Ignoring the facts or dismissing the problem only hurts those children who do not have access to enough food.

There is no quick fix to end childhood hunger, but assistance is available across Montana, and organizations — both public and private — are committed to implementing solutions that work.

(Tom Nelson is president of Share Our Strength, 703 M Street NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20036. He can be reached at [email protected].)


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