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Ellen Gustafson Headshot

Three Years on: FEEDing Globally... and Locally

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Three years ago, I was working as a U.S. Spokesperson for the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) and met Lauren Bush, a Princeton student, who designed a bag that would feed kids around the world in school. In February 2007, Lauren and I co-founded FEED Projects, a small (ahem, two-person) company with the mission of selling these "FEED" bags to support WFP's international school feeding efforts.

School feeding is a simple and effective way to ensure that children go to school, since food often draws them there, and can learn effectively, since nutrition feeds their minds as well as their bodies.

Initially, FEED was focused on school feeding in places like Rwanda, Kenya and Cambodia. The needs in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia are huge and just a small donation (between $20 and $50) can provide a child with school feeding for a whole year. We are still committed to those regions and are now producing FEED products in East Africa and Southeast Asia as a way to support both trade AND aid to create more opportunity for communities to move out of poverty and hunger.

We have also had cause to look in our own backyard at the realities of food insecurity and poverty that keep our neighbors from reaching their full potential. In visiting countries like Guatemala and Honduras, we learned that just a short plane ride away, our neighbors are struggling with malnutrition that is stunting their growth and setting them back on the road out of extreme poverty. Guatemala has the fourth highest malnutrition rate in the world, with almost 50 percent of children under 5 years old chronically malnourished. Working with the WFP and UNICEF to support nutrition interventions for babies (like therapeutic feeding) and young children (like school feeding) can help young bodies grow to their potential. Currently, FEED is developing a line of products, made in Guatemala, to address child malnutrition and to create jobs.

Even closer, and now more desperate, are our neighbors in Haiti. Already the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with WFP food aid programs operating since 1969, the earthquake ravaged an already ravaged land. After the 2008 hurricane season, 70 percent of Haiti's agriculture was destroyed, leaving 3.3 million people in need of food aid. In the earthquake's wake, the WFP estimates the caseload to be 2 million people in dire need.

Many organizations, including the WFP and UNICEF, have already been hard at work providing emergency relief. The WFP has already reached 1.6 million people with food as a bridge to begin the rebuilding efforts. At FEED, we want to make an impact to help Haiti's children get back to school and back to hope. Our FEED Haiti 50 bag, launching today, will support the FEED Haiti Fund of the FEED Foundation. The fund is our way of helping to ensure that the over 440,000 school children that received WFP school feeding before the earthquake can get back to school as soon as possible. Each FEED Haiti 50 bag sold will provide funds for 50 school meals through WFP.

Haiti is in our backyard, but right down the street, there are American children suffering from the broken food system. Last week, Feeding America released a study about food bank usage being up by 46 percent since 2006. The study estimates that one in eight Americans received emergency food aid in 2009. Clearly, something is amiss in our food system if, in the richest country in the world, so many are unable to account for basic nutritional needs. At the end of February in New York and Los Angeles, the FEED Foundation will co-host two events to support Hungry in America, a documentary sounding the alarm of food security issues here at home. This will launch our FEED USA Campaign, to support healthier school meals for all children in America, just as we support international school feeding.

It may seem far-fetched to draw the parallels of food insecurity from sub-Saharan Africa to Central America to the U.S., but the reality is that children around the world are suffering from malnutrition, despite there being enough food for everyone. At FEED, our mission has expanded "inversely" from global to local as we've learned more about the realities of our neighbors. At our 3-year anniversary, Team FEED (now five staffers plus two interns!!) is celebrating our success of funding over 50 million meals to hungry children around the world, but we are also looking near and far at the global food system and how we can help to better FEED the world in the years to come. Stay tuned...