03/18/2011 10:37 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

America's Problem of Child Hunger (Video)

In Chicago, the snow has melted and winter is finally giving way to spring. One indication of the new season is the number of children playing outside in Chicago's many parks. I love seeing them and hearing their voices, their excited shouts and laughter. I hope that these children are fortunate enough to never know what it is like to wonder if there will be any dinner on the table that night, or what it is like to go to school on an empty stomach because there isn't any food at home.

Here in America, 17 million children face hunger. That is one in four. Studies show that children who experience hunger face significant stress and challenges that can have a lasting effect on their physical, cognitive and behavioral development. From birth to age 3, chronic under-nutrition is most harmful because proper nourishment is essential to support this critical period of rapid growth. Hunger also affects a child's ability to learn and perform well at school. Children experiencing hunger come to school ill-prepared to learn and are more likely to have trouble focusing in class.

As Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a December Town Hall meeting about the child nutrition reauthorization, "[Children] don't have a powerful lobby. They don't make campaign contributions, and they don't vote. But they are one hundred percent of our future." As the Department of Agriculture begins to implement the landmark child nutrition bill enacted by Congress last December, I am again grateful for investments our leaders made in child nutrition programs that will allow us to make progress against child hunger.

The Feeding America network of more than 200 food banks and 61,000 local agencies is fortunate to have thousands of dedicated staff, volunteer, friends and partners who advocate on behalf of America's hungry children. Through their efforts, we are able to raise awareness about the urgent problem of child hunger and keep the issue in the public eye.

On Saturday night, May 19, at NBC will air "Child Hunger Ends Here: A Special Report", a 30-minute special hosted by Al Roker with Natalie Morales that focuses on child hunger in America and what you can do to help. The special was created in partnership with ConAgra Foods, a long-time supporter of our efforts to fight child hunger. As the CEO of Feeding America, I am well-aware of the struggles that so many low-income families face as they try to keep enough food on the table for their children. But even so, I watched the feature and was still struck by what these families have to go through just to get by. The stories are heartbreaking, yet hopeful and I encourage everyone to watch.

Sadly, there are hungry children on playgrounds in every neighborhood, in every community. Child hunger is a crisis in America and as long-term unemployment and under-employment continue, a greater number of children will go without enough to eat. The more awareness we can bring to the issue and the more advocates we can recruit to promote the cause, the better chance we'll have of ensuring that all of America's children have the food they need to grow, learn and succeed.