Jeff Bridges has been working on childhood hunger for longer than the children he champions today have been alive. In fact, it’s been a 30-year crusade. In the early 1980s, the Academy Award-winning actor founded the End Hunger Network, an organization focused on feeding children around the world. More recently, he’s focused on feeding kids here in the United States. Motivating the shift in Bridges’ attention is the reality that more than 16 million American kids live in households that are labelled “food insecure” – those that don’t know with certainty where their next meal will come from, or if it will come at all.
In 2010, Bridges became the face of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, and took his role more seriously than just that of a spokesperson. We met Bridges in Nevada, where he is working to highlight a summer lunchtime feeding program for kids and where he was meeting with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to talk about what more the state could be doing – at no cost to itself – to fight childhood hunger. Listening to his commitment and enthusiasm relaying progress on fighting childhood hunger through summer meal programs stretching from Arkansas to Montana was as compelling as any role he’s ever played on screen.
Bridges also engages with the crowds who come to see his band, Jeff Bridges & The Abiders. At his concerts, he talks about the moral challenge of childhood hunger and his optimism that with more of what he calls “political will” our country could solve the problem. Similarly, Bridges leverages his movies to highlight the work of Share Our Strength/ No Kid Hungry. As one example, for his next movie, “The Giver,” supporters of No Kid Hungry can enter a contest to be Bridges’ guest at the premier in New York City later this month.
Despite his decades of work against childhood hunger and the enormity of the challenge, Bridges does remain optimistic that childhood hunger can be eliminated in America. He dismisses cynics who doubt that, saying it’s “cynicism that holds [childhood hunger] in place.” The optimism Bridges feels today is rooted in the new approach of No Kid Hungry to, as he describes it, “deal with the governors and get into communities.” In other words, closer to the front lines of the battle against hunger.
“You’re not gonna have a strong America if you got weak kids,” he says. That sounds like something Bridges’ most famous character “The Dude” would have said in “The Big Lebowski.” More powerfully, it’s the words of a man who’s been fighting childhood hunger for more than 30 years and who will keep fighting until its defeated – an outcome he expects in his lifetime.
First published August 1 2014, 1:17 PM