With Gratitude In Our Hearts, Let’s Resolve To End Hunger

By Patrick Leahy

This week we gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving and rekindle some of the most important relationships in our lives. 

All of us in this great and good land have things to be thankful for.  Some of us will give special thanks for good health or good fortune over the past year.  We are always grateful when we can spend time with our loved ones.

As we express thanks for the bounty that we enjoy, it can be easy to take for granted the comfortable shelter and the full tables that help make homecoming comfortable.  For the 48 million Americans struggling with food insecurity, Thanksgiving can be a time of great stress and need as they grapple with the challenges of affording enough food for their families.  Each and every day, millions of Americans face the uncertainty of not knowing when they and their families will have their next meals.

Hunger and malnourishment are not confined to developing nations; they exist across the nation, and in our own communities.  Nearly one in seven Vermonters receives 3SquaresVT help, and about 13 percent of all Vermont households face food hardship each year.  One in five children faces hunger each day in Vermont, while more than 150,000 Vermonters each year rely on the safety net of food shelves, meal sites, senior centers and after-school programs for nutritional resources that they would not otherwise have without the support of the people of their communities.

Across the nation, the costs of everyday essentials like food, heat, housing and medicine continue to rise, straining families’ budgets.  Americans should not have the impossible dilemma of having to choose between heat and food, but far too many must do that. 

Hunger can take its biggest toll on children.  Kids who live in food-insecure homes are at greater risk of developmental setbacks, poor academic performance, nutrient deficiencies, obesity and depression.  Food assistance programs have shown that these statistics can be turned around, or at least stabilized.  Federal nutrition programs reduce the risk of children developing health problems, and they are associated with declines in the incidence of child abuse. Children from families who receive help from supplemental nutrition programs are also shown to have a higher achievement in math and reading, and improved behavior, social interactions and diet quality than children who go without.  We all know that a hungry child cannot learn.  Every child in America deserves a fair chance, which is why investments in nutrition programs are so important.

As the senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry I am working to defend and continue the programs that counter childhood hunger, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; the school lunch program; and the Child and Adult Care Food program.  Years ago when I chaired the committee I was proud to restore “Nutrition” to the committee’s title and to elevate its place on our portfolio of priorities.  The Farm to School Act that I authored helps schools feed all children farm-fresh food while teaching them the importance of healthy eating — lessons that will promote good health over a lifetime.

This spring I had the chance to visit Milton Elementary School and saw students eager to fill their trays with nutritious, locally produced foods at the lunch counter.  Milton also feeds hundreds of local families at monthly dinners aimed at bridging community relationships, as well as supplementing everyone’s knowledge and skills for healthy eating habits.  Since Milton began these programs, student participation in the school lunch program has risen from 38 percent to 65 percent.  Milton’s approach is proof that local and federal community investments in child nutrition and the farm to school program are making tangible strides in improving child and family health – a model for communities everywhere.

Vermont has made tremendous effort and achieved great progress in lifting Vermonters out of poverty with anti-hunger programs and with partners like the Vermont Foodbank and Hunger Free Vermont.  We must also support these partnership efforts in Washington.  Congress can help ensure that foodbanks are well-stocked by passing the Good Samaritan Act, a bill I authored to expand and make permanent tax deductions for donating food.  Every year, 70 billion pounds of fit and wholesome food is sent into landfills.  There’s simply no excuse that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, people do not have enough to eat.  We spend billions of dollars to dispose of wasted food.  What if we instead invested this food in our own people? 

During Thanksgiving, and every week of the year, let’s recommit ourselves to eradicating hunger.  Together we can give a voice to our fellow Vermonters and fellow Americans who are often overlooked and marginalized.  We have made meaningful progress in several ways in the fight against hunger and poverty.  With gratitude in our hearts, let us resolve to do more.

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[U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) serves on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition And Forestry.]

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