“Today in America, one in five kids lives in a family that struggles to put enough food on the table every day.
Here’s what that means: Sometimes the pantry is completely empty. Sometimes mom skips meals so the kids can eat. Sometimes there is enough during the school year, but overwhelming hardship during the summer, when school meals disappear. Sometimes parents are forced to make terrible choices between food and rent or food and medicine.”
– Bill Shore, hunger activist
About Bill Shore: In 1984, Bill Shore co-founded Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood hunger in the United States. (Shore’s sister – Debbie Shore – co-founded the organization with him and oversees planning and strategy). Bill Shore serves as the organization’s chief executive officer; he also chairs Community Wealth Partners, an allied organization “that helps change agents solve social problems at the magnitude they exist.”
Shore has worked in politics, serving on both the senatorial and presidential campaign staffs of former U.S. Senator Gary Hart (D-Colorado). Shore also worked as chief of staff for former U.S. Senator Robert Kerrey (D-Nebraska). He has also been an adjunct professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. In 2005, U.S. News and World Report named him one of “America’s Best Leaders.”
He has authored several books that focus on social change, including Revolution of the Heart; The Cathedral Within; The Light of Conscience; and most recently, The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, which chronicles the quest to end malaria.
About Share Our Strength and the No Kid Hungry Campaign: It is estimated that 1 in 5 American children face hunger each year. The No Kid Hungry campaign – an initiative of Share Our Strength – ensures that children can begin their day with a nutritious breakfast, are able to access the food they need during the summertime and that families learn the skills they need to shop and cook on a budget (the Cooking Matters program). The No Kid Hungry campaign features a “No Kid Hungry network,” which is comprised of private citizens, government officials, business leaders and other who partner to provide innovative hunger solutions in their community.
Q: When you founded Share Our Strength, did you envision the organization would be where it is today?
Mr. Shore: More than thirty years ago, my sister Debbie and I founded Share Our Strength in the basement of a row house on Capitol Hill. We started with two assets: We had $2,000 from a cash advance on a credit card and the belief that everyone has a strength to share. Everyone has the ability to make a difference in their community and in the world.
We were originally moved to act by the famine in Ethiopia, but as the years passed, we became increasingly aware of a growing problem here at home, especially among our children.
Inspired by the writer Jonathan Kozol’s advice to pick battles big enough to matter but small enough to win, we decided to create the No Kid Hungry campaign to end childhood hunger in the United States. It launched in 2010 with a specific view of what success could look like. We realized that by bringing together non-profits, government officials, corporate leaders and concerned citizens, we could build a network that ended hunger for millions of kids in need.
Q: Hunger is part of larger social challenges facing us. What are you seeing right now?
Mr. Shore: Today in America, one in five kids lives in a family that struggles to put enough food on the table every day.
Here’s what that means: Sometimes the pantry is completely empty. Sometimes mom skips meals so the kids can eat. Sometimes there is enough during the school year, but overwhelming hardship during the summer, when school meals disappear. Sometimes parents are forced to make terrible choices between food and rent or food and medicine.
This can have a devastating toll on children. When kids aren’t getting enough healthy food, it creates long-term, expensive consequences that can follow them for the rest of their lives. For example, it can actually change the architecture of growing brains, stunting a child’s ability to learn. Kids who struggle with hunger are hospitalized more frequently and can develop heart problems, anemia, obesity, diabetes and a whole host of health problems.
It also takes a devastating toll on our country. When a fifth of our youngest generation are fighting hunger, it robs us of the best minds of the future. It is an enormous drag on our nation’s economic growth, as new generations perpetuate the cycle of poverty. We can’t have a strong country without strong children.
Q: Hunger has proven to be a somewhat intractable problem in America. Why is childhood hunger so persistent in a nation with such food abundance?
Mr. Shore: Childhood hunger is a solvable problem.
We have enough food. We have programs in place to reach kids. What’s needed is to remove the barriers that keep kids from accessing those programs.
Together, we work with partners to remove those barriers. Nonprofits can’t do it alone. The government can’t do it alone. Corporations can’t do it alone. To truly end hunger, we must build public-private partnerships that allow these sectors to leverage their strengths.
Q: What is working well in the system? What needs to improve?
Mr. Shore: The existing national nutrition programs are the most efficient way to make sure kids get the food they need every day. The school breakfast program, for example, can be an extremely effective way to make sure kids have the nutrition they need first thing in the morning. We’ve discovered that the simple step of moving breakfast out of the cafeteria before school and making it available “after the bell” ensures more of the kids who need this critical meal are getting it.
SNAP (what we used to call “food stamps”) is also one of the most powerful tools we have for ending childhood hunger in this nation. Two-thirds of all SNAP benefits go to families with children, and the program lifts 2.1 million kids out of poverty each year.
Q: Are there public policies that might help us more effectively address the nation’s hunger problem?
Mr. Shore: Yes. Public policy has played a critical role in reducing childhood hunger. Programs like SNAP and school meals represent a bipartisan consensus that a nation with the abundance of food we enjoy need not leave any family hungry.
Q: I really enjoyed “The Cathedral Within” and your profiles of how public and private sector partnerships can prove transformational. You are a social entrepreneur who leads an organization that approaches problem solving in a different way than most institutions; it’s been inspiring and effective. How might a more entrepreneurial approach inform and improve the work in our public institutions?
Mr. Shore: One of the most important steps a nonprofit can take is the initial leap of imagination.
For example, when we started Share Our Strength, our initial focus was on feeding people – which other groups are already doing well — rather than ending hunger. We took a leap with No Kid Hungry and refocused our broad anti-hunger efforts specifically on hungry children in the U.S. and realized we could do more than just feed them. We could actually end childhood hunger. Establishing the bold goal of ending childhood hunger — not reducing, reversing, or redressing, but ending it — represented transformational change and more than any other factor has been responsible for our growth and success.
Another key factor is building core partnerships, relentlessly increasing the number of shareholders and champions. This means collaborating, partnering, and forging coalitions. It also means giving real ownership to others so that they are working with you or even independently of you toward a shared objective. Embracing this sort of collective model has been a big catalyst in our success.
Q: What actions can individuals take now to help end childhood hunger?
Mr. Shore: Everyone has a strength to share when it comes to the fight to end childhood hunger. You can donate funding. You can call your lawmakers and help change public policy. You can volunteer in your communities, write to local newspapers, spark discussions about the issue on social media, and shine a spotlight on the work happening to ensure that hungry children will get the healthy food they need, every single day. (People can learn more at our website, NoKidHungry.org.)
Q: What is most concerning to you right now?
Mr. Shore: The lack of bold political leadership around this issue is deeply concerning. Too many of our leaders are out of touch with the poorest of the poor, which is now a sizeable number in our country.
These include our most vulnerable and voiceless; 11% of American children are living in deep poverty. 51% of our public school students now live in poverty. Yet neither the press nor our political candidates in this election year are giving voice to these issues with any consistency, if at all. That leaves those who are the most economically and politically marginalized with no markets to serve them, whether economic, political or in the media.
This places even more of an obligation on nonprofits, advocates and philanthropy to do what is most important for them to do: be the voice for those whose voices are not being heard but desperately need to be. Many of them are children; they represent and will shape our collective future.
Q: What is inspiring you?
Mr. Shore: My inspiration comes from the people we meet. Recently, for example, I sat down with District Attorney George Gascon in San Francisco. Mr. Gascon came here from Cuba in 1967, grew up poor, went into the army, spent decades on the streets as a cop, while pursuing college and law degrees, becoming chief of police before District Attorney. His life and career taught him that a critical component of fighting crime is investing in kids. He is especially passionate about school meals. “I look back now and think I might have made better choices if I’d been better fed.” His passion for kids and his understanding of the role food makes in their lives inspires everyone at No Kid Hungry to keep fighting for our mission.
Q: What else should readers know about your work and the organization you lead?
Mr. Shore: One of the most important parts of our strategy is setting the right metrics, then using them as a guide to ensure we are making the right impact. We use extensive performance measurement standards to hold ourselves accountable to being both efficient and effective, so we have maximum impact on reducing hunger.