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The Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland

Maryland Childhood Hunger Facts:

  • More than 152,000 children in Maryland live in poverty;
  • Thousands more of Maryland’s children and youth, who do not meet the Federal definition of poverty, still do not get enough to eat; and
  • An estimated 210,000 children and youth in Maryland do not have ready and reliable access to the food they need to live healthy, active lives. 

So what can we do about it? In November 2008, to address these issues and provide Maryland’s children and youth with access to nutritious foods, Governor Martin O’Malley created and convened The Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland. He appointed the Governor’s Office for Children to lead the partnership in collaboration with Share Our Strength, a national organization working to ensure that no child in America grows up hungry.

In addition to the Governor’s Office for Children and Share Our Strength, a variety of people and organizations were invited to take a seat at the table, including:

  • Maryland Hunger Solutions;
  • The United States Department of Agriculture;
  • The State Departments of Education, Human Resources, Health, and Mental Hygiene;
  • End Hunger in Calvert County;
  • Advocates for Children and Youth;
  • The Maryland and Capitol Area Food Banks;
  • SHARE Food Network;
  • Local Management Boards;
  • The faith community;
  • The Sodexo Foundation;
  • The Walmart Foundation;
  • Kaiser Permanente;
  • Weight Watchers; and
  • Other interested stakeholders.

A unique component of The Partnership is that our table brings together stakeholders from across federal, local, and state government, as well as the advocacy, non-profit, and faith-based community.

At the core of The Partnership’s strategy to end childhood hunger are three goals:

  1. Improve access to public and private programs that provide food to children who need it;  
  2. Strengthen the  community infrastructure and systems for getting healthy food to children; and
  3. Improve families’ knowledge about available programs, healthy food choices, and how to get the most value with limited resources. 

Guided by these strategies, we developed and are implementing an action plan that is reasonably calculated to close the gaps between eligibility for nutrition programs and participation. Each of the agencies that administer these programs sits at the table, and we share with them the challenges and successes of these programs to feed our children. You may well ask, “What are the gaps and why work to close them?”

We are focusing on federal nutrition programs (e.g., school breakfast and lunch, summer meals, at-risk afterschool meals, the food supplement program, and WIC.) These were chosen because we know that in Maryland, eligibility far outpaces participation. For example, there are more than 343,500 students eligible for the school lunch program, but fewer than 211,963 participate. That means that just over 61 percent of eligible children participate and about 39 percent of eligible children do not. For school breakfast, the same number are eligible and only 31 percent participate. Although this represents a 12 percent increase in daily school breakfast participation since 2007, and we celebrate the increase, we still must ask, “Where are the other 69 percent of eligible children eating?”  Although we have seen increases in each of the programs we focused on, there is still more that we must do to meet our goal of all eligible children participating in the federal nutrition programs.

The Partnership has tried a variety of innovative approaches to increasing participation. In collaboration with our partners at the Maryland State Department of Education, The Partnership, and the Governor’s Office for Children, and our corporate partners, we developed a summer strategy. Through the public schools, we sent postcards home in backpacks of children who live in areas eligible for summer meals, purchased “air time” to advertise the program, participated in radio and print interviews, and implemented a hotline for the calls that we hoped would generate interest and participation in summer meals. And it did! The staff members who answer the hotline are able to connect families to summer meal sites in their neighborhood. During the past three summers we have seen the number of calls grow from 600-plus in our first summer of implementation, 1,200 in the second summer, and so far in our third summer, 1,450 calls. This success has encouraged us to expand the summer hotline to a hunger hotline that will serve as a year-round resource for Maryland’s families.

In addition to feeding hungry children, The Partnership has been able to demonstrate that modest investments in nutrition initiatives yield a positive return on investment. For example, a $20,000 investment from Share Our Strength in summer meals resulted in an additional 8,018 children participating in the program. At a federal reimbursement rate of $2.50 per child, this leveraged $563,585 in federal reimbursement. It is our goal that the investments made through The Partnership by our foundation and corporate partners at Sodexo, Walmart, and Kaiser Permanente will yield two results: more children eat nutritious meals and more federal reimbursement comes into Maryland to feed our children. 

So what have we learned? We know that children cannot learn if they are hungry, and that children who eat nutritious meals are more likely to demonstrate improved academic outcomes, have better grades, and good attendance. They are less likely to be late for school, be obese, or chronically referred to the nurse for stomach and headaches or the principal’s office for behavioral concerns. We know that one of the best things we can do to end childhood hunger is provide easy access to healthy and nutritious meals for children where they live, work, and play. So we invite you to take a seat at our table or to set your own table and invite the people in your state to join you to end childhood hunger!

For more information regarding Maryland’s Partnership to End Childhood Hunger and the No Kid Hungry Maryland and national campaigns, please go to www.nokidhungrymd.org,www.nokidhungry.org, or contact Rosemary King Johnston at 410-767-6211 or the Summer Hotline at 1-877-731-9300.

Rosemary King Johnston is an active member of the Community Advisory Council for the Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities at Kennedy Krieger Institute.

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