Ritter praised by Washington Post for hunger efforts

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter gets a call-out in this Sunday’s (Nov. 21) Washington Post — from Academy-award winning actor Jeff Bridges no less.

“As we prepare for our Thanksgiving bounty, it’s hard to believe that there might be a kid on our block who doesn’t know when her next meal will come. Just last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that nearly one in four children struggles with hunger,” Bridges and Bill Shore wrote.

They point to Ritter as having helped increase the number of children in Colorado who have access to school lunch programs during the summer by more than 25 percent in the last year.

Ritter spokesperson Myung Oak Kim confirmed that fact and said Ritter had made it a priority to see that more children were able to access free or reduced price meals even when school is not is session.

Kathy Underhill, executive director of Hunger Free Colorado, said that in 2009, Colorado ranked 47th on access to free or reduced cost meals in the summer, with only 6 percent of eligible children participating.

In 2009, there were 222 summer meal sites that served 767,892 free meals across Colorado. This summer, there were 315 summer meal sites that served over 970,000 meals.

“With partners Hunger Free Colorado and Share Our Strength, Colorado has made great strides to reduce childhood hunger since I launched the state Campaign to End Childhood Hunger a year ago,” Gov. Ritter said in an email. “Over the summer, tens of thousands more children received free meals. And we are working hard to help as many children as possible receive free or reduced-price meals at schools. Childhood hunger is a problem that can and should be prevented and I am heartened to see the progress we are making in such a short time in Colorado.”

Underhill said 80 percent of kids participating live within a mile of a site. Adding more sites is crucial, she said, as transportation is an issue for many families. She said churches and community centers can participate as can schools.

Families can find the nearest site by visiting www.summerfood.org.

She said Ritter’s efforts have been instrumental. “When you have top-level leadership and an engaged community at the local level, problems get solved. Governor Ritter said ‘we can do this’, and we did,” she said. “In Colorado, if people know there is a problem, they come forward to solve it.”

Bridges founded the non-profit End Hunger Network in 1983. Shore is the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, a non profit working to end childhood hunger.

There is a function on the End Hunger web site, where you can type in your zip code and find organizations in your area that need your help. We tried it and got complete contact information for many local organizations.

Hunger Free Colorado says on its web site that 17.2 percent of Colorado families are “food insecure”, which amounts to 208,000 households. Of those, the site says 87,000 families have “very low” food security.

Hunger Free Colorado earlier this year surveyed every person running for the state legislature on their views on hunger. The results are interesting (pdf), especially to note how few candidates bothered to respond.

The United States Senate this summer unanimously passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which would increase funding for childhood nutrition programs by $4.5 billion over 10 years, which according to The Washington Post would be the first such increase in 30 years. The House of Representatives has not acted yet.

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