Making sure kids eat properly during summer is not some abstract political football. It’s a real problem. Kids who eat less in summer can do worse in school and develop lifelong nutritional struggles.
There is an available solution: If your family lives on a low income with kids under 19, all you have to do is text “FOOD” to the number 877-877, and you’ll receive a text back telling you where you can find three nearby places for kids to get free summer meals.
Let me repeat that. Are your kids hungry? Text “FOOD” to 877-877. They can eat for free.
Many families and kids aren’t taking advantage of this program.
Nevada ranks 49th in America when it comes to feeding free summer meals to low-income kids, actor Jeff Bridges told me.
Wait. Did I just name-drop Jeff Bridges — the Oscar-winning star of two “Trons,” “Starman,” “The Big Lebowski,” “True Grit,” “Crazy Heart,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” “Against All Odds,” “The Last Picture Show” and this August’s “The Giver”?
Oh yes. Bridges is meeting with Gov. Brian Sandoval and first lady Kathleen Sandoval this week. Bridges is in his fifth year as a national spokesman and volunteer for the Share Our Strength organization and its NoKidHungry.org campaign.
What’s his conversation plan with the governor?
“We’re gonna talk about ending childhood hunger, and get attention for the summer meal programs,” Bridges said.
“A lot of these low-income kids get their nutrition at school. And school’s out. They depend on summer meals being served,” he said.
In Nevada, an estimated 163,000 low-income kids are eligible for free summer meals, but only about 10,000 are reaching out for that food.
“That’s a little over 6 percent participation rate. We’re trying to turn that around,” Bridges said.
If you think it’s weird Bridges knows more stats about childhood hunger in Nevada than most of us Nevadans know, welcome to the club, because I was surprised about this too.
In fact, I asked Bridges to call me so we could talk about his upcoming concerts. On Friday and Saturday, he’ll sing with daughter Jessie and his country band, The Abiders, at Red Rock Resort. (Last year, his two popular Vegas gigs sold out.)
I also wanted to talk about his great new book, “The Dude and the Zen Master,” with co-author Bernie Glassman.
But Bridges was far chattier discussing hungry kids than topics about himself.
Politically, this isn’t just an issue for the bleeding heart left and middle. It’s bipartisan, Bridges said.
“As you know, Gov. Sandoval is a Republican, and he’s a champion of ending hunger. He created the Governor’s Council on Food Security. His wife is the chair of that council. He’s very involved,” Bridges said.
“And Bob Dole was very big into food stamps, a giant supporter of food stamps,” he said. “Talk about being patriotic, you can’t be any more patriotic than taking care of our kids.”
Nevada needs to get the word out to low-income families about free meals. Nevada also needs more meal sites, which can be nonprofits, churches and libraries.
“There are 200 meal sites in Nevada currently. If we added just 18 more sites, we could serve summer meals to a thousand more kids,” Bridges said.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and other politicians have taken Bridges to meet kids benefiting from free meals prepared in their presence.
“One of the kids,” Bridges said, “hooked up a blender to a bicycle and powered the blender. The kids would take turns riding that bike, making healthy smoothies for this class.”
Let me just remind you Bridges doesn’t even live here. He has movies to make.
But Bridges understands what’s at stake and refuses to do nothing.
“If you get used to eating crummy food, that’s what you’re going to eat when you’re an adult. So you’ve got obesity as the flip side of the hunger coin. But it’s really kind of the same thing — learning about nutrition.”
(By the way, Mr. Bridges, I’ve seen “Starman” and “Tron: Legacy,” like, 30 times each, thanks.)
Doug Elfman’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.