The harsh reality that nearly 17 million kids in America frequently go to bed hungry hits Jeff Bridges where it hurts — as a father, as an artist and as an activist who has worked with anti-hunger orgs for decades.
Bridges and the nonprofit group Share Our Strength are in the midst of an ambitious campaign to end childhood hunger in America by 2015.
“When Obama was campaigning for president, he was talking about creating the will to end childhood hunger by 2015,” Bridges says. “All the hunger organizations got together and figured out what we need to do to make that happen. The fact that we’re in such dire straits makes it a more urgent issue.”
Bridges is the national spokesman for SOS’ No Kid Hungry campaign, a state-by-state push to develop public and private partnerships to aid low-income families, to teach nutrition and healthy eating habits and to improve the effectiveness of existing efforts, like school-based breakfast and lunch plans.
No Kid Hungry launches in California on Tuesday with a private fund-raiser at Ron Burkle’s BevHills home. On Wednesday, Bridges, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will tubthump the No Kid Hungry initiatives at a news conference at Figueroa Street Elementary School in South-Central L.A. Bridges is asking his showbiz friends to pledge their support through the Nokidhungry.org website.
One major target for the campaign is to pry loose more than $1 billion in federal funds that have been allocated to help fight hunger but are not being used at state and local levels for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s a matter of coordinating the logistics of distributing food and assistance, sometimes of creating the political will to get programs in place. Bridges met with pols and Obama administration officials last fall when he went to D.C. on a lobbying mission.
Bridges says the hunger issue resonates for him in large part because he is a father.
“As an actor I’m always putting myself in other people’s shoes,” he says. “I can imagine what it would be like to have three daughters who I wasn’t able to provide for. It would just be devastating. And then it’s much more than the obvious suffering of the kids, but what it’s doing to our nation on so many levels when kids don’t have the proper nutrition to get their brains working.”
Bridges first became active on the issue in 1984, when he and other bizzers founded the End Hunger Network to raise awareness. At that time, the org concentrated on famine and hunger in other parts of the world. But about 20 years ago, Bridges shifted his focus closer to home as the magnitude of the need became clear.
“If another country was doing this to our kids, we’d go to war,” he says.