How City Leaders Can Combat Childhood Hunger

During his State of the City address this year, Adam Paul, mayor of Lakewood, Colorado, nailed it.

“I have given this a lot of thought,” he said, “and I want to tell you my ‘one thing’ for this year. I want to address childhood hunger in our city. There is no excuse for children to go hungry in Lakewood, yet it happens every day. I believe our kids are our greatest asset. Together, we can change lives by ensuring that their most basic needs are met, and I will consult with the Lakewood Linked coalitions to make sure we have no – let me repeat – no hungry children in our community. This is my bold commitment. What’s yours?”

Today, more than 41 million Americans live in households struggling with food insecurity. The impact of everyday hunger can be long-lasting, and have negative impacts on children’s health, academic performance and eventually employment.

Detailed data from the National League of Cities’s 2018 State of the Cities report shows that addressing hunger, nutrition and food deserts are important priorities for mayors. Mayors and city leaders have significant roles to play in ensuring that children and other vulnerable populations have access to nutritious meals.

For the past six years NLC, with the support of the Walmart Foundation, has partnered with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) on the CHAMPS initiative to help cities address the issue of childhood hunger by expanding participation in the Summer and Afterschool Meal Programs. Cities received grants and technical assistance from NLC, and the initiative has helped 71 cities feed over 140,000 children more than 12 million meals.

Despite the success of this program, NLC recognized that there is much more that cities and city leaders can do to alleviate food insecurity in their communities. For instance, summer and afterschool meals are important but not the only federal nutrition programs that can be accessed to mitigate hunger in communities.

Cities can take advantage of all available federally-funded nutrition programs, including school breakfast and lunch, Afterschool and Summer Meals, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to reduce food insecurity. Fully utilizing available funding and outside support can help cities reach more children and families and bring in federal dollars to support local economies.

This year, NLC’s CHAMPS initiative will take a broader approach in helping cities tackle food insecurity by creating citywide, mayor-led anti-hunger campaigns. These campaigns can encourage the entire community to work together to address hunger. The initiative was launched last month with a Leadership Academy in Kansas City, Missouri where 14 cities came together to learn about best practices and the nuts and bolts of federal nutrition programs.

The participating cities have started to plan anti-hunger campaigns, considering how they will raise the visibility of hunger within their communities and ensure mayors are the figureheads of these campaigns.  They have begun setting community-wide goals, developing citywide marketing and outreach plans; creating a ‘big tent’ of willing local partners to address the issue; and working toward fully utilizing federal nutrition programs.

Additionally, city leaders at the Leadership Academy gained the understanding that they must engage unlikely allies from other city departments who haven’t been previously involved in addressing hunger. Potential opportunities include placing promotional materials on city-owned cars or buses so they are visible as vehicles drive across the city raising the visibility of the campaign, or police officers and firefighters dispensing nutritious food to families in need and sharing information about nutrition programs.

At the Leadership Academy, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James shared his thoughts about hunger in his city with participants.

“All children in Kansas City deserve to thrive in a safe environment with food on the table, no matter their zip code or how much money their parents make. Allowing our children to grow up facing hunger and food insecurity weakens our community and limits our City’s potential. It’s our responsibility as adults to make sure they get what they need so they can grow up and lead Kansas City into a successful future,” Mayor James said.

NLC and FRAC will competitively select six cities that attended the Leadership Academy and provide them with grant funding and technical assistance over the next year-and-a-half. This work will help the cities build their anti-hunger campaigns with a focus on the role that city leaders can play in ensuring that federal nutrition programs reach as many children and families as possible.

To learn more about the CHAMPS project, please click here or contact Patrick Hain at (202) 626-3099 or To learn which cities participated in the CHAMPS Cities Combating Hunger Leadership Academy, click here. To download NLC’s State of the Cities report, click here.

headshot_xu.jpgAbout the authors: Kyna Xu was the intern for the Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment team in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.



abbd3f4bbbf0e511fcd6cc729404b79b.pngPatrick Hain is principal associate for Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.