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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: Fighting Hunger in All Seasons

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With the holidays once again upon us, the spirit of giving will bless many of our fellow Arkansans in need. Food drives, toy donations and clothing-collection efforts all contribute to making the season a better one for those who are less fortunate. But their needs are not strictly seasonal, and their plight doesn't end with beginning of a new year.

More than seventeen percent of all Arkansans live below the federal poverty line and cannot afford to provide enough food for their families. One-in-four children in our State do not know where they will get their next meal, meaning that Arkansas has the fourth-highest percentage of hungry children of any state.

One year ago, we decided that Arkansas had to do more to combat childhood hunger, and launched the No Kid Hungry campaign. Aiming to end childhood hunger in the State by 2015, No Kid Hungry brought together leaders with the knowledge, experience and resources to address our children's ongoing needs. We believe that we can invest public and private funds wisely and make the most of available resources to get the best value for our efforts. By increasing participation in the Supplemental Food Assistance Program, as well as in the free and reduced-cost school lunch program, this partnership has already had a positive impact. Less than a year into our efforts, Arkansas received the State Partnership Leadership Award from Share our Strength, one of the nation's leading hunger-relief organizations.

When the Governor's Office helped launch the No Kid Hungry Arkansas campaign last year, our partners included Share our Strength, the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, state agencies, local school districts, nonprofit organizations, and Walmart and Tyson Foods. This past summer, the campaign's work centered on improving kids' access to nutritious meals when school is not in session. While children can often count on regular meals when they are going to class every day, many are left without options once school dismisses students for the summer.

No child, senior citizen, man, or woman deserves to go without food on any day, not just holidays. Cognitive-learning deficits in children, recurring illnesses among seniors, lack of productivity and absences from work, and long-term social and economic impact are among the damaging effects of food deprivation. This campaign to feed our children is an investment in the future of Arkansas. We have to provide better access to nutritious food if we hope to improve opportunities for success for our future generations.

Solving this crisis will take the compassion and effort of our entire population. We've made great progress in our first year, but we need more involvement and dedication to keep this momentum going. If you are inspired to give to those less fortunate this holiday season, remember that too many children will face hunger year-round. We've already started to show that the spirit that makes the holiday season special can stretch beyond the calendar month and affect real change. If we can reduce hunger for the long haul, we can give our children many happier days ahead, and not just happy holidays.


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