Ruth Riley's Blog - Illinois No Kid Hungry Campaign Launch

Most people have mental pictures of starving children in Africa when the issue of poverty and hunger are raised—you might be surprised to learn that there are actually more than 16 million American children who do not have reliable access to the nutritious food they need to lead healthy, active lives. Recently I had the opportunity to represent the NBA/WNBA in Chicago at the Illinois No Kid Hungry Campaign launch.

There are two reasons why I am compelled to write about this issue. First of all, I want our WNBA/NBA fans to know about this program and how they can either benefit from it or support it. Secondly, I want families, especially the kids, to know that some of their favorite NBA/WNBA players know exactly how they feel. We understand that it is not always easy to admit that you need help, and that as kids any time you are different whether it is your appearance or social-economic status, you are subject to being to being made fun of. We want to encourage our youth to understand that nutrition is just as important to them as it is to us as professional athletes. Getting enough healthy meals is essential for kids to be successful in school and in life.

As you have noticed over the years, I try to be authentic and transparent about my life’s journey, because sometimes people just need to know that they are not alone in their struggles. This is an issue that hits close to home for me, because my family benefited from free and reduced lunch programs when I was growing up. I shared with the students that my mom did everything she could to raise my brother, sister and I, often working two jobs while raising us on her own, but sometimes there just was not enough money to go around. The free and reduced lunch program at my elementary school made sure that my siblings and I had a nutritious meal that my mom could not always afford herself.

Share Our Strength is a national nonprofit committed to ending childhood hunger in America by making sure that children in need are enrolled in federal programs, it invests in community organizations fighting hunger, teaches families how to cook healthy meals on a budget, and builds public-private partnerships to end hunger on a national and state level. The NBA/WNBA are committed to working with Share Our Strength to connect more than 50,000 youth to free meals this summer across the United States. Click here to learn more.

There was a common theme to the messages of all the speakers, and that was that there is not a shortage of food in America or a shortage of programs, but rather there is a shortage of access. The focus is to increase participation in all federal child nutrition programs, to connect eligible children and families to all available assistance programs (only 39.3% of the students who receive free or reduced lunches are taking advantage of the free or reduced breakfast programs and only 14% participated in summer programs in Illinois), and to invest in innovative programming that strengthens communities’ infrastructure and systems to get healthy food to children and their families. We want our kids to be strong, we want our kids to be smart and we want our kids to be successful, so please find out how you can help end childhood hunger in your community!!