When we think of Italy, visions of pasta, pizza, and other yummy cuisines come quickly to mind. But Italy is also home to another “food craze”—to make sure no school children around the world go hungry.
It’s called the Fill the Cup campaign and it’s run by the United Nations World Food Programme in Rome. The goal: school meals for all children around the world.
Josette Sheeran, the director of the World Food Programme, with the classic Red Cup which symbolizes school feeding for all children (WFP photo)
Around $3 billion annually would provide school meals for needy children, a tiny fraction of the cost of the world’s armaments. The major problem keeping this from happening is lack of political will and funding for WFP and other agencies.
Providing food for children in school is not a headline grabber either. You won’t see anything on the cable news networks about it. But interestingly, providing school meals for kids is actually one of the most powerful forces in world history.
Even during the Second World War, donations by Americans helped provide school meals to malnourished children in Nazi-occupied Norway. After the war, school feeding was a major part of the bridge from war to reconstruction and peace.
General Lucius Clay said after World War II that a school feeding program for three million kids ”saved the health of German youth” and “did more to convince the German people of our desire to recreate their nation than any other action on our part.”
Children in Italy receiving food from the U.S. Army after World War II.
Children in the U.S. helping their friends abroad.
WFP’s sister organization UNICEF emerged after the war, and school milk programs were a huge part of its early years helping Europe.
Let’s go back to Italy though. In the closing months of World War II, a group of military and relief officials met to discuss how to save Italian children from the most relentless foe: hunger and malnutrition.
Kevin Silber of the Red Cross linked food distribution to schools. He said that “we could furnish milk to children who need it, and at the same time stimulate school attendance.” And this really sums up the essence of today’s Fill the Cup campaign: you feed hungry children’s stomachs and minds. And when a child is fed in school, he/she will perform better.
Children in Florence, Italy after World War II enjoying a school meal. (photos from the National Archives)
Food and education make a powerful one-two combo, a long-term solution to lifting children and communities out of poverty. For without nutrition and education, children do not have a chance in life. Neither does their country.
Yet, despite the value of school meals and the relatively small expense of providing them, children are still starving across the globe.
In Afghanistan, for instance, there are street children searching in garbage for food. There needs to be a comprehensive child feeding and education plan for the 600,000 street children. Food and take-home rations for all children in Afghanistan should be one of the first steps to help that country rebuild. Feeding and educating these children will keep them off the streets. Tragically, funding does not exist for universal feeding for Afghan children. It most certainly should, and not only in Afghanistan, but Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan and many other countries.
So the next time you see a great pasta dish, think for a minute of the other Italian-based food movement: the Fill the Cup campaign. With enough will, children around the globe can also share the joy of precious food. And with it, their lives can be changed forever.
You can donate to the Fill the Cup campaign here.
Hear from Dwight Eisenhower, General Lucius Clay, Herbert Hoover, and Josette Sheeran discussing the importance of food for children in the film Ending Child Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. View the film at YouTube.