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Empowering children to end hunger

Courtesy of Lois Brandt

Lois Brandt will never forget the image of her childhood friend’s empty refrigerator. The shelves were bare except for a tiny carton of school milk. Her friend was saving it for a younger sibling. When Brandt started writing, this was one of the stories she had to tell. Maddi’s Fridge is one of the few pictures books to tell the story of childhood hunger. We talked to Brandt about food scarcity in Washington state and what kids and adults can do about it.

Why address hunger in a children’s book?

In Washington state, 25 percent of kids face food scarcity. Even in wealthy school districts, elementary kids know. They are either one of the kids facing food scarcity or they are a classmate of one of these children. I wanted kids to know that they are not alone on either side. Also, I wanted kids to see the power of community, that we can help our friends through things.

How can kids help fix something as complex as hunger?

I often say that if second graders ruled the world there would be no childhood hunger, because they want to do something. A lot of kids have already participated in food drives. I know somebody who loaded up a little red wagon and let the kids pull the wagon to the food bank. As kids get older they can volunteer at food banks. With parents leading the way, there’s something for every age.

Do you have any advice to parents who want to talk to their kids about childhood hunger?

There is one big don’t. This comes from one mom who said, “Maybe I should just empty out the refrigerator so my kids know what it’s like.” Don’t scare your kids. Reassure your kids that if they work on something, they can fix it. Also, when you talk about this, it isn’t “Let’s help the poor people,” it’s “Let’s help our friends and neighbors.” When we’re helping people, we need to remember they are just like us.

What role do you see parents playing in the fight to end hunger?

You can go to food banks and volunteer. Any time you have a child at the house, don’t offer food, just put it out. You don’t know whether they’ve eaten. And learn the statistics. The statistics in Washington are horrible. We are the 15th hungriest state.

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