Alex Guarnaschelli: Why I’m Committed to Helping Fight Hunger

09/23/2014 at 10:31 AM ET

Alex Guarnaschelli, Carla Hall, Mario Batali at Empire State Building
Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli

Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.

I am always late and rushing my daughter to school. Probably because I live only a few blocks away and blithely assume that it will take no more than 2 minutes to walk there when it really takes 10. And that the doors will magically open and there will be no other parents or kids blocking our path to my daughter’s classroom and that our morning goodbyes won’t be drawn out. Somehow, I’m always wrong.

The other day I walked her through the doors of the school and then cut through the cafeteria to get to her classroom, figuring it would be less congested. It was, but I saw something there that had eluded me all those other mornings: kids eating breakfast in the cafeteria. Some of them seemed to be eating as quickly as possible and some were lingering over their food. I have always thought hunger in America was simply an issue of not getting food to all of the people that are hungry and in need. As it turns out, it’s not that simple. And even though I’ve been a chef for years, it’s something that I’ve only just begun to understand through my work with Feeding America and Share Our Strength. (The photo above is of my fellow volunteers as we turned the Empire State Building orange for No Kid Hungry.)

In many schools, children eat breakfast while their classmates head up to class — creating a divide before the school day even starts. Some kids refuse the breakfast, though they are hungry, so that they can head to class at the same time as their classmates so as not to be seen as different. Imagine if breakfast were served in the classroom so that everyone could start the day on equal footing?

I have spoken with elementary school teachers who bring food from home or share their own breakfast with students they know are starting their day off on an empty stomach. I don’t know about you, but often I didn’t want to plow through my schoolwork even when I had eaten breakfast. I definitely would have fared far worse if I had to go through a school day without eating. Imagine not having dinner and eating lunch the next day would have been the first meal in 24 hours? Algebra and geometry, two of the worst school subjects I ever attempted to conquer, would have been even harder. My energy and ability to concentrate would have been non-existent. Feeding America’s 200 food banks are now providing food assistance to one in seven Americans (nearly 46 million people), including 12 million children and 7 million seniors through 60,000 food pantries and meal programs.

The fight to end hunger has many champions. Share our Strength has raised over $245 million toward ending child hunger, and has funded over 1,000 nonprofit organizations throughout its history. As of 2009, it runs an annual budget of $12 million. Its mission has many facets ranging from keeping food banks stocked and functioning to unraveling the social stigmas surrounding childhood hunger.

There are a lot of different ways to help: participate or attend events like “Taste of the Nation,” “New York City Wine & Food Festival,” be a part of the “Great American Bake Sale” to raise funds, eat at one the 8,000 restaurants participating nationwide in the “Dine Out for No Kid Hungry” program.

The other great thing to do is build awareness of the issue of hunger. Approximately 12 million children, maybe even your next door neighbor or the kid down the street, are unsure of where their next meal will come from. My daughter and I were walking down the street the other day and she spotted someone bundled up and asleep on the corner. “I don’t like that people don’t eat or have a home to go to, mom.” “Me neither, kid,” I answered.

Building awareness is a big piece to the puzzle, and I want my daughter to understand and see how we contend with the huge and solvable issue of childhood hunger in this country. We are planning to volunteer at a local Feeding America food bank in NYC. Maybe she can become part of the solution. Maybe you can be part of the solution. Join me in the fight against hunger.

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