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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: An Update on the No Kid Hungry Campaign

Last summer, the United States Department of Agriculture released a study, which indicated that Arkansas had the highest percentage of hungry children in the nation. Coming on the heels of promising news about our progress in national education rankings, as well as per capita income increases, the report was a startling reminder that our efforts to improve education and boost economic development could be derailed by our failure to address the most basic needs of our children.

In response, the State formed a partnership with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, national hunger experts, Share Our Strength, Arkansas business leaders, and federal and state agencies. In October of 2010, we announced the No Kid Hungry Campaign, an initiative to end childhood hunger in Arkansas.

Our research revealed that, while rates of childhood hunger were high in Arkansas, participation in federal, state and private programs designed to feed children, was low. So the Campaign’s first goal has been to increase participation in summer feeding programs around the State by making these programs more accessible to children who need them.

Last summer, there were 130 organizations offering summer feeding programs at 339 locations around our State. Because of the efforts of the No Kid Hungry Campaign, I’m pleased to announce that this summer there are more than 150 sponsors providing food to hungry children at more than 400 locations in Arkansas.

These summer feeding sites offer breakfast and lunch, and the USDA reimburses sponsors for the cost of the food. A searchable map and database of summer feeding sites is available on the Special Nutrition Web site of the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

Additionally, a Summer Food Hotline (1-888-454-3427) is available to provide rapid assistance to families with hungry children. One call can provide the location of summer feeding sites, and additional information to ensure that families are accessing all existing state and federal assistance programs. State and local agencies have distributed flyers, banners, door-knockers and posters to neighborhoods and communities around Arkansas to spread the word about these resources.

In July, the campaign will host Hinges of Hope, bringing together current and potential sponsors to increase Arkansas’s capacity to feed our most vulnerable children. We are working to continue these programs after the summer to include after-school and weekend nutrition programs, as well, to further address the great need some children face every day.

We are also working to combat other factors that increase childhood hunger in Arkansas. Soon, we’ll launch Cooking Matters, a pilot program to provide low-income families with information about nutrition, meal planning, and budgeting. These classes will give families the knowledge to provide a healthy diet for their children, even with limited resources.

As one of our most basic needs, food can drive our ability to succeed, or stifle our ambitions for the future. Ending childhood hunger is a fundamental component of our efforts to build a brighter future for all Arkansans. We are making significant progress, but there is more work to be done.