I serve on the board of GENYOUth, which was set up a decade ago in partnership with America’s dairy farmers to create healthier school communities by increasing access to healthy food and creating more opportunities for students to be active, before, during and after the school day. The NGO, headed by former TV anchor Alexis Glick, has pivoted to tackle childhood hunger which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Here are some scary statistics from GENYOUth:

  1. 30 million school-age kids rely on the school meal program for a significant portion of their daily nutrition.
  2. One-in-four children in the U.S. is food insecure. School meals are often the only nutritious meal many children eat.
  3. One-in-three minority students now live in food-insecure households.
  4. Fourteen million children are regularly missing meals, three times more than in the Great Recession and five times more than pre-pandemic.
  5. Two-thirds of school districts have implemented distance learning but 20 percent of the students do not have the technology to engage in remote instruction.
  6. One-in-three Black, Hispanic and American Indian children fall into the digital divide.
  7. Schools asked for $200 million for school lunches in the latest emergency package before Congress but the present bill envisages no payment for the school meal program.

School nutrition staff have taken extraordinary efforts to maintain operation of the school meal program, delivering meals through grab and go, drive through pick up, and even bus stop drop-off. GENYOUth initiated a Covid-19 Emergency School Meal Delivery Fund to supply much-needed resources for meal delivery and distribution. They have received $40 million in grant requests from over 13,000 schools. While GENYOUth has raised $11 million which has benefitted over 9,000 school meal programs, more help is needed to feed our nation’s kids. The private sector needs to step into the void left by government, unwilling or unable to meet the needs of their communities.

A perfect example of this is Albertsons Companies’ Nourishing Neighbors program. The retailer has provided $5 million to 2,000 schools in their communities. This money is used to purchase grab and go equipment, refrigeration for perishable items, PPE for workers distributing the food and transportation for meals at home from the school cafeteria for students doing distance learning. Albertsons’ store managers are responsible for allocating the funds.

Another is the Chunky Million Meals Challenge Madden NFL 21 tournament in partnership with the National Football League, Target, Doritos, America’s Dairy Farmers and CSL Esports. As part of the initiative GENYOUth, EA Sports and Campbell’s Chunky are hosting a tournament whereby 8 of the top real-world Madden NFL gamers, will compete to be coached by NFL players such as Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants and Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings, and Madden expert gamers, in an effort to raise enough funds to support the delivery of 100 million meals to alleviate hunger among school-age kids.

“We are facing a crisis of epic proportions for American youth,” said Glick. “There is a deficit in our emergency school fund of $30 million. The private sector has a vital role to play to help us fill this void. Financial resources and in-kind support are desperately needed to feed our nation’s kids.”

The only hunger a child should face is a hunger to learn. I am going to contact a select number of our clients to ask them to participate in this urgent initiative. Edelman will do its part. We owe it to our country and more importantly our children. Let the kids focus on their studies and not their stomachs.

Richard Edelman is CEO.