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2 Billion Meals Served to Hungry Kids with Debbie Shore (Episode #136)
Debbie Shore is co-founder of Share Our Strength, which has fed close to 2 billion meals to hungry children since their campaign, No Kid Hungry, began. (That’s billion with a B, folks!) Today’s episode is full of stories and insights from that remarkable journey that will give you many nuggets of inspiration and ingenious thinking to take into your own path to make the world a little better place.
About Our Guest:
Debbie Shore and her co-founder (and brother, Billy Shore), have spent most of their adult lives focusing on an expansive view of the solutions to the problem of hungry children. And the organization they have led since 1984 — Share Our Strength — has changed the lives of millions with that remarkable energy.
This interview will give you the sense that anything is possible once a group of diverse people come together and share inventive ideas and a clear vision.
I was blown away by all the positive possibilities and amazing communities of people who are on the case here. Share Our Strength has really mastered the art of bringing people together and their work may be closer to home for you than you think!
Let’s start with a very quick thought experiment: Think of an adorable little child in your life: one with boundless energy, curiosity and a natural light shining on the inside.
No really… close your eyes and think of their delightful way in the world.
1 in 8 of those kids in the United States are living with hunger. That’s 9 million children. And there is no way to know who they are. The old stereotypes of “the poor kids in the class” no longer apply. (… if they ever did.)
Some of these children are missing meals; while others are faced with hunger-related hardships as parents and caretakers make tradeoffs between buying groceries or paying bills. I was gobsmacked by the hunger facts.
But the vast majority of our conversation was about the good news: the pandemic showed us that when it comes to feeding kids in America, we have programs that work, all teed up. And making certain that we make the most of all those programs and policies — already in place — is a big part of Debbie Shore’s message.
Best of all, Debbie tells us about many fun ways we can all enjoy the ongoing fundraising efforts that Share Our Strength facilitates all over the country.
If you have access to communities connected to restaurants, chefs, cooking, cycling, the fitness industry, wealth management, or community leadership, there may be fun events (or possible events) that are supporting hungry children, right where you are.
In today’s episode she helps us celebrate what’s possible when millions of people contribute their interest, energy and skills (some a little, some a lot) in a cohesive, well-planned way.
[h3] Share Our Strength
Debbie and Billy co-founded Share Our Strength as a response to the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980’s. Their work started No Kid Hungry in 2010, and many other campaigns since then, that we will celebrate in this interview.
Share Our Strength’s mission is to end hunger and poverty in the U.S. and abroad.
It’s been 30+ years of successfully investing in local nonprofits and helping find the best approaches to eradicating poverty and hunger, and through campaigns like No Kid Hungry and Cooking Matters (which helps low-income families learn to shop and cook healthier) they are making enormous progress on achieving their goals.
They say right off on their website:
“It’s a big job, but we’re not alone…. We believe that everyone has a strength to share .. to help ensure every individual can live a healthy and productive life.”
Of course we LOVE that sentiment as it runs parallel with what we are observing in the Conspiracy of Goodness in our times: We are seeing that everyone has something they are uniquely built to contribute!
This interview may contain that spark of inspiration you’ve been hoping for when it comes to kicking your own volunteering or problem-solving skills into high gear.
We talk about how the organization’s people have met challenge after challenge with a fearless sense of ingenuity, and how they’ve brought together seemingly disparate communities that were only too happy to help, once they were asked.
It’s an inspiring hour that will validate the fact that you were absolutely right to hold out hope for humanity. Goodness and progress is all around us, and we will see it when we take the time to look and listen.
When we consider all the ways that each of us can make someone else’s life a little better, it’s hard to beat the idea of being able to fill the tummy of a hungry child. There’s something primal in our need to make sure there are no kids going hungry in our circles.
I look at the timeline of Debbie Shore’s work in the service of this big goal and see a Charter member of the Conspiracy of Goodness of our times.
From a world that needs all the hope and good intention it can get, the Goodness Exchange community thanks the entire team at Share Our Strength and will cheer their continued work on, as raving fans!
00:46 Intro & Welcome
04:16 Share Our Strength
- Sharing Strength is the most thought about of the organisation’s 5 core values.
- The feeling of wanting to be connected to something bigger than yourself and finding value in what people bring to the table is embodied in the name of the organization.
- Enough people will respond to the call if the right vehicle or platform is presented.
- In the case of Share Our Strength, the vehicle is ending hunger.
04:42 The Great Questioning
- During the pandemic, more people questioned what impact the work they were would have on the world and on their own well being.
- More people focused on discovering what they were uniquely built to contribute.
- The path taken by Share Our Strength has changed and grown over the years but the vision to find ways for people to share their strengths to end hunger has sustained.
- The core belief of the organisation was that everybody has a strength to share.
- The original idea of working with chefs & the restaurant industry paid off as restaurants became the lifeblood of the organization.
- A New York Times article about a famine in Ethiopia in 1984 sparked the idea for the organization.
- The organization started with personal funds & loans and contributions from friends and family members.
- One of the first big donors, Chef Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley California, is being honored this week.
- Chef Waters responded to a cold letter with a generous check and by sending letters to fellow chefs who also responded. That started the chain of events with restaurants across the country.
- The fundraising platforms allow contributors to engage in their passions by giving people the opportunity to contribute by doing what they do for a living.
- People want to be engaged in things they care about and be a part of something bigger than themselves.
- Volunteering to do something you care about can lead to discovering your calling and may lead to greater opportunities.
- Peoples’ energy is found in their passion.
12:41 Food Is Life
- Food is central and fundamental to all our cores.
- While we thank our stakeholders for their efforts, they usually thank us for allowing them to be a part of the solution and feel connected.
- According to Christoph Gorder of Charity Water, ‘This is a problem we know how to solve’.
- There are many problems in this world that we don’t know how to solve, so we have to step up to solve the ones when the solution is known.
- World hunger is not necessarily a complex problem but there are barriers of access.
- 1 in 8 kids in America struggle with hunger even though several meal programs exist.
- The focus of Share Our Strength was to identify the barriers that exist in schools.
- Barriers include:
- The stigma associated with having to access school meals
- Timing around getting into school to access meals
- Lack of information
- Efforts to reduce barriers include:
- Changing the way meals are distributed at schools
- Working toward eliminating any special lunch lines
- Eliminating any special or coloured tickets for provided meals
- Start serving breakfast in the classroom
- 3 million kids have now been added to school breakfast.
- Breakfast in the classroom tends to stay once introduced because of improvements in areas such as:
- Readiness to learn
- Test results
- Less need for fidget spinners
18:50 Hunger is Invisible
- Starvation in places like Ethiopia is easier to identify than an issue like hunger in America.
- The awareness barrier is huge in a country that is considered one of the richest countries in the world.
- Hunger is still a critical issue despite the fact that it is easy to go unseen.
- A study around breakfast in Maryland showed that when kids ate breakfast in the classroom, their math scores went up by 17%.
- Math scores are a predictor of graduation.
- Graduating high school dramatically increases the chances of going on to higher education or getting good jobs.
- The Federal Government reimburses for all meals provided in schools.
- The funding is not the issue. There is money sitting in the Federal Government unused due to the fact that the funds are only released when the meal is accessed.
- The issue then goes back to reducing the barriers to access.
26:28 Chefs Cycle
- Chefs Cycle was started because a huge community of chefs and restaurants was developed over the years.
- An Australian chef offered to ride cross country to raise funds for Share Our Strength.
- Debbie liked the idea and added that it would be even better if they can get 100 chefs to ride along.
- Chefs from California were recruited to join the ride and the chefs were challenged to go 100 miles per day for 3 days.
- Chefs also needed to raise $4,000 toward the cause to be eligible to ride.
- The intensity of the race called for chefs to train for months in preparation.
- The initiative has raised millions of dollars over the years and strong bonds and relationships were developed.
- The level of commitment to the cause increases due to this initiative.
- Chefs would cook after the event and share life stories along with stories about the ride itself.
32:00 Taste of the Nation
- Taste of the Nation was the first event.
- While many similar events exist now, Share Our Strength was the first to make this a nationwide event.
- Chefs are a tight knit community, and they were able to help grow the event from one city to 75 cities.
- In the beginning the event would be done on the same day across all the cities.
- Corporate sponsors came on board because of the breadth of the event and some of them joined the cause to help fight hunger both through funding and by lobbying.
35:21 What Happened to Meals during the pandemic?
- During the pandemic, schools were closed and Share Our Strength needed to pivot toward providing meals for children at home.
- Partnerships were made with community groups to manage meal drop off points.
- The opportunity came about to provide meals not just for students but also for their siblings and neighbours who may have been struggling due to pandemic related losses.
- Meals were also provided on weekends at students’ homes.
- The level of generosity from contributors increased during the pandemic.
- During this time, fitness guru Isaac Calpito reached out to raise money for Share Our Strength with the intention of raising $20k through his network.
- This initiative has raised $1.2m over four years.
- This birthed a program called Get Fit which was launched last year.
- Over 50 fitness instructors including celebrity instructor Denise Austin are now part of Get Fit.
- There’s a real connection between fitness and nutrition.
40:01 Share Our Strength in India
- The mission is to end hunger in the USA & abroad.
- A grant pool is annually distributed to other organizations abroad that focus on providing school meals.
- One of the organizations that benefit from this grant is Akshaya Patra in India.
- Akshaya Patra is the world’s largest provider of school meals and receives $150k – $200k annually from the Share Our Strength grant pool.
- Debbie and her team now work with Akshaya Patra to help them with fundraising innovations that can help them turn the $150k into $1m.
- The leadership team at Akshaya Patra were also interested in Share Our Strength’s fundraising events and corporate partnerships.
- A group of Chefs out on a Taste of India event that was able to raise $150k.
- Akshaya Patra builds massive community kitchens that prepare the meals on evenings that are driven to schools throughout the country.
- The goal of the partnership is to help raise funds to build new kitchens.
- What are the most important things for people to know?
- Understand that there is hunger in America
- Understand that it can be solved
- Understand that you can play a part in solving it
- What can take this initiative to the next level?
- No Kid Hungry will continue to connect children to meals.
- The next investment & strategy to look at is to ensure that families have enough resources in their homes to not have to rely on school meals.