Yesterday, I watched as a group of Kindergarten and first graders took turns reading aloud “Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do you See?” The children, most of them students at Clinton Elementary school in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood, were eager to show off their reading skills and kept raising their hands for a turn, squealing “teacher, teacher!” Except it wasn’t a teacher who was reading with them—it was Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (in photo, left) who had come out to visit a Kids Cafe to better understand the reality of hunger in America, a reality that unfolds every day in our own backyard.
Midway through the visit, the Congresswoman leaned over and told me that she had started her own schooling at Clinton. We watched as the children ate their meals and then turned their attention to homework and reading. We watched as the initial excitement of getting their food and milk cartons gave way to the focus and quiet of young minds concentrating.
When members of Congress return to Washington after the Thanksgiving break, they will have many important decisions awaiting them. One of the biggest is the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which provides funding for school breakfasts, school lunches and programs like the Kids Cafe in the West Ridge. The latest statistics released by the USDA are stunning: There are now 17 million children in our nation who are food insecure. Stated differently, 1 out of 4 children in America is at risk of hunger. Passing the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act is a critical step to making sure that all of America’s children have access to food.
This Thanksgiving, I will think about standing in a Kids Cafe, watching 35 of those 17 million children. And I will hope that our country’s leaders will come back from break and pass the Child Nutrition Reauthorization and ensure that food flows out to communities like this. If children have access to nutritious food, they are more likely to be strong readers and successful students. They are more likely to move on from reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to more challenging work, eventually graduating, perhaps going on to college and being well-prepared for the workforce. Who knows—maybe some of these children will even go on, someday, to be members of Congress.