Kathy Goldman is being honored as a Champion of Change for strengthening food security.
I am thrilled to have been selected as a White House Champion of Change, but please know that I am here representing the many, many advocates and activists who have worked and continue to work so hard day in and year out to make a real difference in the lives of so many, especially the two million New Yorkers living in poverty.
One thing I believe about Americans is that we can't stand seeing our neighbors go hungry. No one wants to see again the endless breadlines and starving children that we saw in the Great Depression. And so, especially since the 1960's, several federal food assistance programs are now in place to provide a safety net for needy families including SNAP, National School Breakfast and Lunch, the Summer Food Service Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and WIC. The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) also provides a crucial boost to low-income families.
But the fight against hunger is never over. Advocates from every corner of the United States work tirelessly each day to ensure that basic needs of children, senior citizens, families and individuals are met. For example, nearly 2 million people in New York City live in poverty and 1.9 million receive SNAP benefits which often do not last the entire month. The Food Bank for New York City steps in and serves over 1,000 service providers, who in turn provide meals to 1.5 million people annually. The Food Bank for New York City distributed 65 million pounds of food last year, including federally purchased surplus food. But without the foundation of SNAP benefits, it would be impossible for food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens to fill the gap and provide enough food to meet the need.
And where would we be without the WIC program that provides healthy foods to pregnant women, and infants and children up to five years old? 50% of all babies born in the United States utilize WIC. The program was developed in response to the shocking infant mortality statistics in the United States, as well as to prevent low birth weight and premature babies. We and many advocates throughout this country work tirelessly to make sure eligible women and children use this program.
Most of my work has focused on what happens locally once federal programs take effect. For example, when legislation was passed in 1969 to institute school breakfast across the United States, it took seven years of advocates working with parents to pass state legislation instituting school breakfast in New York State. In 2003, again responding to advocates and realizing that hungry children cannot learn, New York City declared free breakfast for all. Now 231,000 children in New York City eat breakfast in school - not enough, and we won't stop until many more participate. It is worth the fight.
I started doing this work in 1967 when a group of Puerto Rican parents in the Bronx came to the organization I worked for asking for help to improve lunches in their children’s school. Families were dependent upon that meal for their kids, and many still are. Today, school lunch in New York City has significantly improved - many schools have salad bars and there is attention to providing healthy meals. And in the past few years the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed new nutritional standards for school lunch that require more vegetables and fruit.
In 2010 my colleague Agnes Molnar and I started a new organization - Community Food Advocates. Our decades of work on child nutrition programs has convinced us that no matter how much the food improves, many children, especially teenagers, will not eat school meals because they carry the stigma of "poor kids food". In the public education system, the only time families are asked to fill out an income application is for school meals - not for desks, or chairs or blackboards, only for food. We believe that providing universal school meals, is the next step in school breakfast and lunch.
We receive a great deal of credit for the work we have accomplished over the past decades but none of our efforts to end hunger would have been possible without federal nutrition assistance programs. These programs must be responsive, available and accessible to the people who need them. The emergency food system will be there for our neighbors in dire times, but we that system must function alongside our wonderful federal nutrition assistance programs that the people of the United States have demanded and developed over the years.
Kathy Goldman currently serves as co-director of Community Food Advocates, Inc.