THE BLOG
08/05/2014 02:05 pm ET | Updated Oct 05, 2014

One Way to Stem Violence in Chicago Is by Fighting Hunger

If there is one thing that gives children a positive sense of connection to their community, it is a good meal shared with others. Share Our Strength, No Child Hungry is feeding kids in the summer and throughout the year where they live, learn and play. You can help them continue to do that by attending their major fundraising event in Chicago, The Taste of the Nation on Wednesday, August 13th at Navy Pier.

Only three million children in America receive a free summer meal when school is out. Kids are not only missing out on necessary nutrition during the summer recess but fewer good meals leads to a time of anxiety and uncertainty. Twenty one million kids rely on free meals at school. What happens when school isn't in session? You can help save summer for kids facing hunger by taking action and attending the Taste of the Nation.

There are many pieces to the "how to reduce violence in Chicago puzzle." Feeding children who don't have access to good food, particularly in the summer, is one key piece to that very complicated puzzle. Feeding children gives them a sense of security and it has been proven that in school when they receive breakfast they are able to concentrate better throughout the day, their health improves, they are sick less and their academic performance improves. Feeding children breakfast in school gives them more energy to start their day. Feeding children makes them feel a part of a community and a connectedness to the people around them, which is one way to disconnect them from violence in their neighborhoods.

In Illinois, 23 percent of kids struggle with hunger. 790,000 low-income children in Illinois receive free or reduced price school lunch. The problem is that all of these kids are eligible for other critical meals, but too many are missing out. Only 44 percent of children eating free or reduced-price school lunch are getting school breakfast. Only 12 percent of children eating free or reduced-price school lunch are getting summer meals.

Since 2011, the No Kid Hungry network has helped bring more than 34 million additional meals to kids who need them and created ways to replicate that success throughout the country. In Illinois, No Kid Hungry has empowered more than 5,700 Illinois families with the skills, knowledge and confidence to prepare healthy affordable meals through Cooking Matters to reach children where they LIVE. The campaign is focused on expanding access to school breakfast to feed kids where they LEARN. Finally, a big focus has been to provide free meals in the summer where children PLAY.

Summer presents a time of uncertainty for kids without consistent access to food. With school out of session, kids who rely on free or reduced-price school meals find themselves without the safety net of those meals, and families who are struggling financially face an added strain of providing more meals. But too few families know about the availability of free summer meals.

To spread the word, Illinois No Kid Hungry has partnered with the Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) organization to have parent "food ambassadors" do door to door outreach in hard-to-reach, at-risk neighborhoods in the summer months, however, much more of this needs to be done.

The No Kid Hungry network in Illinois includes many partners, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, the Illinois Hunger Coalition, the Illinois Coalition of Community Services, the Central Illinois Food Bank, and the Midwest Dairy Council.

The Chicago restaurant, food and beverage community, including many well-known chefs and sommeliers, have truly rallied together to create a fabulous event in The Taste of the Nation, held once again at the beautiful grand ballroom of Navy Pier and it just takes one more thing, you to participate. You certainly will not leave hungry at this incredible event and at the same time you will be making a positive contribution to changing the face of hunger in Chicago.

It is one thing to complain about violence in Chicago and it is another to do something about it. Feeding children who don't have access to good food, providing them with a full stomach gives them a sense of security, and reinforces a connectedness to their community, one mouth, one stomach, one child at a time.