Floor Statement of Senator Elizabeth Dole on National Hunger Awareness Day

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National Hunger Awareness Day
by Elizabeth Dole

Delivered on 5 June 2007.

Today is the Sixth National Hunger Awareness Day – a day to reflect on the fact that in this nation alone more than 35 million people are experiencing hunger or are at risk for hunger. It is also a day to recognize the tremendous efforts of individuals who graciously give their time and resources to help those in need.

Hunger is far too prevalent, but I think Washington Post columnist David Broder hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “America has some problems that defy solution. This one does not. It just needs caring people and a caring government, working together.” I agree, the battle to end hunger in our country is a campaign that cannot be won in months or even a few years – but it is a victory within reach. And I am motivated to do what I can to make a positive difference in this fight against hunger – both in the United States and beyond our borders.

In America – the land of prosperity and plenty – some people have the misconception that hunger plagues only far-away, undeveloped nations. The reality is that hunger is a silent enemy lurking within one in 10 U.S. households. In my home state of North Carolina alone, nearly one million of our 8.8 million residents are struggling with food security issues. In recent years, once-thriving North Carolina towns have been economically crippled by the shuttering of textile mills and furniture factories. People have lost their jobs – and sometimes their ability to put food on the table. I know this scenario is not unique to North Carolina, as many American manufacturing jobs have moved overseas. While many folks are finding new employment, these days a steady income doesn’t necessarily provide for three square meals a day.

To help struggling families and individuals, our nation is blessed to have many faith-based and other non-profit service organizations that work to fight hunger. Over the last year, I have toured a number of these organizations in my home state – such as MANNA FoodBank in Asheville, Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina in Charlotte, and Meals on Wheels of Senior Services in Winston-Salem. I also have visited the DC Central Kitchen here in Washington – just a few blocks from the Capitol. At each of these organizations, I am inspired by the dedicated staff and volunteers who have such a passion for helping others.

Another hunger relief organization that I hold in the highest regard is the Society of St. Andrew, which gleans produce from farms, and then packages, processes and transports excess food to feed hungry people across the country. When I think of gleaning, I often think of Ruth in the Old Testament. Her story takes place during a famine in Bethlehem, and Ruth gleaned so that her family could eat. In Biblical times, farmers were encouraged to leave crops in their fields for the poor and for travelers. It’s a practice we should be utilizing much more extensively today – considering that in this country, 27 percent of all the food produced annually is lost at the retail, consumer and food service levels. This means we are wasting about 3,044 pounds of good food every second!

The Society of St. Andrew recently passed a milestone – saving and distributing a total of 500 million pounds of food since 1983! This translates into more than 1.5 billion servings! Already this year, the organization has provided more than 5.5 million pounds of produce. Amazingly, it only costs about 2 cents a serving to glean and deliver this food to those in need. And all of this work is done by the hands of tens of thousands of volunteers and a very small staff. I’ve gleaned in North Carolina fields with my friends at the Society of St. Andrew, and they are truly a remarkable group.

Like any humanitarian endeavor, the gleaning system works because of cooperative efforts. Private organizations and individuals are doing a great job – but with very limited resources. One of the single largest concerns for gleaners is transportation – how to actually get food to those in need. To help address this problem, I am proud to reintroduce today the Hunger Relief Trucking Tax Credit Act, which would change the tax code to give transportation companies tax incentives for volunteering trucks to transfer gleaned food. Specifically, my bill would create a 25-cent tax credit for each mile that food is transported for hunger relief efforts by a donated truck and driver.

This bill would provide a little extra encouragement for trucking companies to donate space in their vehicles to help more food reach more hungry people. I am grateful to my colleagues, Senators Lincoln, Burr, Durbin, Vitter and Allard, for joining this effort, and I welcome the support of relief organizations like the Society of St. Andrew, the American Trucking Association and America’s Second Harvest.

In addition, Senators Lautenberg, Lincoln and I plan to soon reintroduce the Food Employment Empowerment and Development Program Act, or the FEED Act. The idea behind this legislation is simple: combine food rescue with job training, thus teaching unemployed and homeless adults the skills needed to work in the food service industry.

With support from the FEED Act, community kitchens will receive much-needed resources to help collect rescued food and provide two million meals each year to the hungry. Successful FEED Act-type programs already exist. For example, in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Community Culinary School recruits students from social service agencies, homeless shelters, halfway houses and work release programs. And just around the corner from here, 25 students recently began training in the DC Central Kitchen’s 68th culinary job training class. This is a model program, which began in 1990, and it is always a great privilege to visit the Kitchen and meet with the individuals who have faced adversity but are now on track for a career in the food service industry.

We also must do more to help America’s 12 million hungry children get on the right track. As a result of hunger, these children have higher levels of chronic illness, depression and behavior problems. This is a travesty that can and must be prevented, and school feeding programs provide a critical means to this end. The National School Lunch Program feeds 30 million children in more than 100,000 schools each day. While reduced price meals are available to students whose family income is below 130 percent of the poverty level, state and local school board members have informed me that many families struggle to even pay this fee. In too many cases, this is creating an insurmountable barrier to participation.

That’s why I am a strong supporter of eliminating the reduced price fee for these families and harmonizing the free income guideline with the WIC income guideline, which is 185 percent of poverty. In 2004, we succeeded in having a five-state pilot program authorized, and since then, a number of colleagues have joined me in urging funding for the program. I am very proud that the fiscal year 2008 Senate budget resolution finally includes the funds, and I will continue to push this during the appropriations process – because expanding the free lunch program has great potential to alleviate hunger for millions of children and help them succeed in school.

School feeding programs also offer tremendous opportunity to reach some of the 400 million chronically hungry children across the globe. Earlier this year, Senator Dick Durbin and I introduced a bill to reauthorize the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. This program was named for my husband Senator Bob Dole and his good friend Senator George McGovern – both of whom remain tremendous advocates for this and other child nutrition initiatives.

As with the U.S. school lunch program, the McGovern-Dole Program helps attract children to schools. The nutritious meals provided help keep them alert and focused so they can learn, and nourished so they can grow and mature. First authorized in 2002, the program provides for donations of U.S. agricultural products, and financial and technical assistance for school food programs and maternal and child nutrition projects in low-income countries that are committed to universal education. In 2005 alone, the McGovern-Dole program distributed 120,000 metric tons of U.S. food commodities, including wheat, wheat flour, corn, rice, dry beans and vegetable oils, to schools that run feeding programs in the world’s poorest countries. In addition to federal funding, outside donors have provided approximately $1 billion to complement the McGovern-Dole program, making this initiative a successful public-private partnership.

McGovern-Dole has a proven track record of reducing hunger among school-age children and improving literacy and primary education enrollment in areas where conflict, hunger, poverty and HIV/AIDS are prevalent. School meals, teacher training, and related support have helped boost school enrollment and academic performance. These positive results are especially true among girls, including those who live where girls are commonly mistreated and marginalized.

Throughout my career in public service, I have seen the faces of hunger so many times. During my time at the American Red Cross, I witnessed hunger and starvation in war-torn Rwanda and famine-stricken Somalia. In Baidoa, I came upon a little boy lying under a sack. I thought he was dead . . . but as his brother sat him up, I could see that he was severely malnourished. I asked for camel’s milk to feed him, and as I raised the cup to his mouth, I put my arm around his back. The feeling of the little bones almost piercing through his flesh is something I will never forget. That is when the horror of starvation becomes real – when you can touch it.

In Deuteronomy 15:7, the Bible tells us, “If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother.”

I implore friends on both sides of the aisle – and the people of this great country – to join in this mission – this grassroots network of compassion that transcends political ideology and provides hope and security not only for those in need today but for future generations. Let us stand and fight as one in this mission to end hunger.