Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona sat down with our founder and executive chair, Billy Shore, to discuss the importance of school meals and the opportunities to end childhood hunger.
The conversation was part of the Return to the Classroom Town Hall, where school and community leaders from across the country discussed their experiences and what the road ahead looks like as millions of students have returned to classrooms this fall.
As these students return, they’re facing the challenges of learning loss, financial stress at home, new COVID protocols at school and reintegrating socially with their friends. Communities are working around the clock to help students regain a sense of normalcy – but when it comes to providing school meals and addressing hunger, schools are facing challenges ranging from staff shortages to supply chain issues.
These are the main takeaways from the conversation with Secretary Cardona.
School Meals Make a Difference
Secretary Cardona, who has two decades of experience as a public school educator, recognized the importance of schools as a place to improve the lives of families and children.
“The past 18 months have reinforced the importance of schools as more than places than where you read and write,” he shared. “They are hubs of the communities. They are really the first place where students and families have some of their most basic needs met.”
During school closures at the beginning of the pandemic, the first priority was to ensure kids had access to the meals they needed.
“Schools are places where students come to get warm meals—in some cases three meals,” Secretary Cardona explained. “We need to recognize that’s part of our core work. I can tell you now, children don’t learn as well if they’re hungry. If their stomach is grumbling, they're not going to be able to grasp the concepts.”
The Opportunity to Solve Childhood Hunger is Here
In the conversation, Billy Shore spoke about how childhood hunger was at its lowest levels in history before the pandemic, but the crisis has reversed a lot of the work. But he is hopeful.
“I feel this is more solvable than ever,” said Billy Shore. “We talked about some of the flexibilities Congress enacted... There's a broader base of support for anti-hunger work now than there ever has been. It’s created a moment for us to get some really big things done. We have to recommit ourselves and double down in this moment.”
Secretary Cardona agreed, emphasizing collaboration and adding that it was imperative to “not lose this opportunity to hit reset.”
It Takes More than Food to Fight Hunger
Secretary Cardona recognized the heroic work of bus drivers and cafeteria workers who rolled up their sleeves to do whatever it took to feed kids, often putting themselves at risk. He also acknowledged how these heroes continue to work hard amid staff shortages and supply chain disruptions. Both Billy Shore and Secretary Cardona said that their work needs to be recognized.
These heroes stood up in a pandemic that put to light many of the challenges that families face. Billy Shore and Secretary Cardona agreed that we could go back to the way it was before.
“We’ve also got to get down to the root causes of why kids are facing hunger,” Billy Shore explained.
Secretary Cardona talked about the Build Back Better Act and the difference it could make in the lives of kids across the country.
“I've never experienced as an educator at any level, the level of commitment, policy and resources toward education that we have now,” he shared, discussing the bill’s focus on education. “Look at what education did to me, the first in my family to go to college. And I'm blessed to serve now as the Secretary of Education. Imagine the potential with this plan for so many students like my story because my story is not special. There's so much potential here for our country.”
We are grateful to Secretary Cardona for an insightful conversation that reaffirms our commitment to working with schools and supporting legislation that tackles the underlying causes of childhood hunger.
Join us, so you too can be part of this unprecedented opportunity we have to ensure all kids have the meals they need to thrive.