Appearing in The Washington Post on April 19, 2006

Thirty-Five Thousand Children Can't Count on Having Dinner Tonight

Wednesday, April 19, 2006; A16

COULD IT BE that in Washington, D.C. -- nearly six years into the 21st century -- an estimated 35,000 children live in homes where they don't always know where their next meal will come from? The answer, unfortunately, is yes, according to a report this week by the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in the Nation's Capital, an umbrella group led by the nonprofit organizations D.C. Hunger Solutions, the Food Research and Action Center, and Share Our Strength. For tens of thousands of D.C. children, the report notes, three nutritious meals a day are unheard of. Many start their day without breakfast and go hungry when school is closed. No city can lay claim to compassion as long as such conditions exist.

Fortunately, this situation is not going unnoticed. The partnership has joined with Mayor Anthony A. Williams and civic and business leaders to announce a plan that they hope will end childhood hunger in the District within 10 years. They intend to start by ensuring that as many as 20,000 children will soon be eating three government-subsidized meals a day, to include breakfast and lunch at school and dinner through after-school programs. The organizers believe the city ought to be able to draw on $14 million available from federal programs to finance this ambitious undertaking. If the effort succeeds, the results will be immediately apparent: Thousands of children will be receiving the nutrition they need to make it through the day at school and at home. But more will be needed, the organizers acknowledge, if hunger as it is known today is to end.

Their long-range objective is to put food and nutrition where children's lives should be grounded: in their homes. This week the program announced aims to achieve that by bringing more families into the food stamp program, providing public education about food and nutrition programs available to families, and increasing families' access to fresh produce in their communities through the creation of more neighborhood markets. Getting nutritious meals to children via schools, after-school programs and summer meals is a challenge. Even more difficult, however, is ensuring that all families have the resources to put good food on the table at home. Achieving that objective will require a sustained commitment by all the city's stakeholders.