School Meals Funding Is an Invaluable Investment in Humanity

Photo: WFP/George Fominyen
Published May 14, 2019

Around the world, childhood hunger is increasing for the first time in decades, and we are facing potential intergenerational losses as a result. As you’re reading this, there is a bipartisan effort in Congress to reach more of these children by deepening support for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. We urge support for this bipartisan effort.

The McGovern-Dole Program is one of the most effective tools to fight childhood hunger that we have in our toolkit. Not only does it combat childhood malnutrition, but the promise of a school meal improves educational outcomes and fosters stability in places where both are lacking. Since its establishment in 2002, the program has fed more than 40 million children in 41 countries across the globe.

Photo: WFP/Julissa Aguilar

Students from Santa Martha elementary school in Nicaragua wait in line for their daily school meal.

Beyond widely-cited benefits like improved attendance, performance and retention, school meals are critical for empowering and protecting young girls. In many places around the world, girls are less likely than boys to attend school and are sometimes forced into early marriage or the workforce. When this happens, they forgo a potentially transformational opportunity for themselves and their families — receiving an education. Through the McGovern-Dole Program and other efforts, the gender gap in school attendance is closing. The McGovern-Dole Program began as an idea between two politically and ideologically different Senators who united for a common purpose. It became law in the same spirit of deep bipartisan and bicameral support — a legacy that continues today.

Photo: WFP/Laura Morris

WFP provides High Energy Biscuits to more than 2,000 students a day at the Al Harba School in Aden, Yemen.

The McGovern-Dole Program was launched as a pilot under President Clinton and later signed into law by President Bush. The coalition supporting the legislation included non-profit organizations fighting hunger abroad and innumerable agriculture industry groups here at home. After all, McGovern-Dole uses American-grown foods to jump start these school meals programs. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have lent their support to the program.

Today, another Kansan and another McGovern are stepping up to lead the charge, working to ensure that we continue to grow an investment that reflects our American values. We salute Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Kan.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and nearly 100 of their colleagues who have called for expanding the McGovern-Dole Program.

George McGovern reads with students in a rural Chinese primary school.

George McGovern reads with students in a rural Chinese primary school in 2001.

Their dedication and that of a long line of American lawmakers from both parties have been contagious. Other countries are taking note and incorporating the cost of school meals into their own domestic budgets.

But we have more work to do. In poor countries, less than 20 percent of children receive a school meal. We must deepen our support for the McGovern-Dole Program as a signal of our continued commitment to the cause of feeding hungry, vulnerable children and as a call for other nations to do the same.

We’ve seen first-hand the terrible burden of hunger. So did George McGovern. “I give you my word,” he once said, “that anyone who looks honestly at world hunger and measures the cost of ending it for all time will conclude that this is a bargain well worth seizing.”

Hungry children do not build prosperous economies or peaceful societies. School meals represent one of the most affordable and effective investments we can ever make in humanity.

This OpEd was originally published on The Hill. Richard Leach is the president and CEO of World Food Program USA, a nonprofit organization that proudly supports the mission of the World Food Programme, the planet’s leading hunger relief agency. WFP USA is on Twitter at @WFPUSA. Bob Dole is a former senator from Kansas and set a record as the nation’s longest-serving Republican leader. He is a founding board member of World Food Program USA. He is on Twitter at @SenatorDole.