This week’s Friday Feature is Harriet Watkins Giles. Harriet heads the ECHA task force as well as the Director of External Relations for the College of Human Sciences at Auburn University. Harriet has been part of the ECHA task force from the very beginning.
This is her story:
“End Child Hunger in Alabama (ECHA) is a statewide, multi-sector initiative launched out of the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn University in 2012 to address the critical issues of hunger and foodinsecurity that affects more than 25% or 300,000 of Alabama’s children and youth. Our mission is to ensure that Alabama’s young citizens have access to a variety of nutritious foods that promote healthy growth and development necessary for physical well-being and educational achievement in childhood and a skilled and productive labor force in adulthood.
If you think about it, the direct and indirect effects of child hunger and malnutrition begin at conception and, if no intervention occurs, can have lifelong pervasive consequences starting with health issues such as greater than average acute illnesses, increased hospitalizations, chronic diseases such as diabetes, and obesity. This can then lead to educational challenges associated with poor academic performance, behavioral disturbances, and inadequate social and emotional development. Consequently, what may then follow is a work force preparedness problem associated with a less competitive pool of skilled labor and communities that are deprived economically.
It has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my career to be involved in the ECHA campaign. While Alabama still has a long way to go in ensuring food and nutrition security for all of its children, we are making progress in so many areas. This is the result of many individuals and groups who are represented on the task force coming together from government, education, the non-profit and faith communities, and the corporate sector. I cannot begin to tell you how committed they are to the work at hand and to the power of collective action that builds capacity and serves as a multiplier for reaching increasing numbers of children, as well as their families who need a hand-up.
Since it was launched, ECHA task force members have been involved, for example, in improving access to healthy foods for children through USDA summer and after-school feeding programs; breakfast in the classroom efforts; weekend back pack initiatives; childhood obesity prevention; and healthy food financing for areas of the state where fresh produce and other nutritious food isn’t readily available.
As Governor Kay Ivey, ECHA campaign spokesperson says, “The good news is that child hunger is preventable, if we take collective action!” That’s the commitment that ECHA has made, and we hope all of the citizens of Alabama will join us in this ambitious effort. For more information, visit our website at www.endchildhungeral.org.“