If you had to picture what child hunger looked like, what image would come to your mind? Would South Carolina be represented in that image? Ms. Ashley Page, Childhood Hunger Community Organizer for the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities, says these questions help fuel her advocacy and work around the issue.

As a native of South Carolina, Ms. Page’s pride for her state has served as motivation for finding innovative ways of addressing the various disparities that she sees.  In 2015, Feeding America reported that 27% of South Carolina’s children struggled with hunger, a number that has increased from 24.3% in 2014. While talking about her work with End Child Hunger SC, Ms. Page shared, “for many people, when they hear child hunger, their mind drifts to a foreign country or a state far away. They don’t often think of South Carolina or even the county that they live in. Child Hunger is a very real issue in our state!”

End Child Hunger SC has a mission to build awareness, increase community capacity and create a coordinated effort to address child hunger in South Carolina. Compiled of a multiple community partners, End Child Hunger SC has shifted from its beginnings as a quarterly meeting to discuss food disparities within the state, to a program with various initiatives. Some of their initiatives include: [After School Enrichment Programs] the USDA funded reimbursement program which allows healthy meals and snacks for youth afterschool; [Summer Food Service Program] a USDA program that provides up to 2 free meals during the summer to youth ages 3-18; [Community Eligibility Provision] the 2010 Hunger-Free kids Act which allows schools that have a 40% or higher ratio of students that receive or qualify for free lunch to eat breakfast and lunch for free.

“I am most excited about our Family Champion Leaders. This is an opportunity for the very parents who are affected by food insecurity, to inform us and help to lead the initiative because they are the true experts on child hunger,” Ashley said. Currently there are two family champion leaders identified from Richland and Lexington Counties, Ms. Sarah Ravenell and Mrs. Jameelah Rasheed.

Mrs. Rasheed’s path to becoming a Family Champion Leader for Lexington County began with last year’s flood. As her family tried their best to salvage what they could in their home, it was Ms. Page’s organization along with a team of volunteers who gave them food. “Jameelah immediately stood out as a leader. Here was a woman who lost almost everything, but was out helping others and helped us coordinate who needed additional food or assistance in her community,” Ashley said. For Ms. Ravenell, her journey began shortly after a conversation with Ms. Page as she was picking up a fresh produce box for her family. When asked about her role Ms. Ravenell stated that, “it has been an eye opener to the different ways people end up needing assistance. Everyone has the same struggle, but the path there is different. For some it’s via job and for others it may be the flood, but in the end we all just want to provide for our family.”

As parents who face food insecurity they provide tangible examples and innovative solutions of how to address this issue. Both women expressed a sincere level of gratitude for their new role and expressed hopes for their position. “My hope is that people will know that End Child Hunger SC is truly there for children. If you don’t know what your resources are or you feel that you are going to be embarrassed to admit that you need help, then you may miss out on an opportunity to truly provide better care for your family,” Jameelah stated. Ms. Ravenell would like for “every child to be fed and to not feel embarrassed because it’s not their fault. I also would like for us to have healthier food options for our families.”

Much of their work in recent weeks has gone to preparing for the start of a dynamic Second Annual End Child Hunger SC Week. They encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about the topic, who wants to make an impact on the lives of children, and care about the future of South Carolina to come out and support. End Child Hunger SC Week has events from October 22rd-October 29th. See link here for a detailed list of events.

Find out more about End Child Hunger SC and what you can do to join in on the charge by visiting: EndChildhungerSC.org Together, we all can aid in ending child hunger in South Carolina.