“There is plenty of food in this country and there are plenty of food programs that work. The dilemma is that most kids don’t have access to them.”
By Kim Meyer-Webb | Photography by nancy nolan | Produced by ellen scruggs
The fundamental vision of the No Kid Hungry campaign – to make nutritious meals more accessible to children – is shared with Americans in nearly every state. In the Capital City, Matt Bell is an ardent ambassador for the No Kid Hungry initiative – a reflection of his family’s “share the goodness” philosophy evident in their home, their business and their life. In October, Matt and his wife Amy will host South on Main’s No Kid Hungry Dinner to garner support and funding for the Arkansas No Kid Hungry campaign.
In Arkansas, the No Kid Hungry strategic partnerships + programming are organized and implemented by the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. As the only statewide hunger advocacy organization, the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance has several national affiliations as well as a network of effective constituents – business leaders, public officials, nonprofit organizations and concerned citizens – all with a finite focus on eliminating food insecurity in Arkansas. This network is critical for success because as Matt notes, the nuances of the national crisis are not consistent throughout the country. “What makes No Kid Hungry so unique is an intentional perspective to issue-based solutions and a revelation that every state is different,” Matt explains. Advocates like Matt and Hunger Relief Alliance Executive Director Kathy Webb make Arkansas a national leader in the campaign with measurable, meaningful results.
Amy and Matt were introduced to No Kid Hungry by Kathy – friend, former restaurateur and politician. With a heart for the welfare of all Arkansans and a history of community service, Kathy also serves on the Little Rock City Board of Directors and remains active in Little Rock’s local food scene. “Chefs like Matt are really the heart of No Kid Hungry volunteers,” Kathy says. “They are engaged and compassionate by nature, feeding us and creating shared spaces for connecting people. Amy and Matt Bell are passionate about food and hospitality, but not just at their restaurant South on Main. It’s their inclusive approach to building a better community that makes them so special.”
No Kid Hungry is a program of Share Our Strength. Kathy explains, “Share Our Strength has a rich history in the hospitality industry and counts on chefs to help solve the hunger crisis.” In addition to No Kid Hungry dinners, chefs also organize advocacy efforts communicating with elected officials and policy makers to create effective change.
No Kid Hungry Arkansas focuses on the health + nutrition of children and families. Its USDA programs include a school breakfast program as well as after-school meal and summer meal programs offered through local churches, schools, libraries and community centers. “The real magic of No Kid Hungry is the transformation of communities that come together and really rally to solve a problem with a practical, tactical approach,” Matt notes. “In too many low-income neighborhoods, what we consider ‘real’ food – fresh fruits, vegetables and meats – aren’t even an option. Families shop at the convenient store or bodega, within walking distance, and buy stuff that is non-perishable.” While the No Kid Hungry model for success and implementation adapts to address specific regional and demographic demands, these are programs with proven results that have national appeal.
Cooking Matters is a program that integrates local chefs and community leaders into the No Kid Hungry Arkansas campaign – teaching skills to families like how to shop, cook and consume more nutritiously. Amy remembers the first class she and Matt taught: “Cooking is simply part of what I’ve always known – with my grandmother and now with Matt – it’s always been an important part of family and place for us. It was a revelation for me that some families have never had the opportunity to experience that kind of love, shared through cooking at home with family and creating a history.”
After spending time with the couple, their love of family – including those they nourish at their restaurant with food + fellowship – and place is undeniable and endearing. With an unexpected urgency in his voice Matt demands, “In Arkansas, one in four children struggle with hunger – we will not let hunger win.”