McGovern offers hope and guidance at hunger conference


Former U.S. Senator George McGovern, the man who ran against Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election, spoke July 17 to a Hunger Solutions Minnesota gathering in St. Paul about a longer, more-difficult struggle with a darker foe: world hunger.

McGovern and hunger
McGovern and former U.S. Senator Bob Dole were awarded the 2008 World Food Prize earlier this year, because of the international school-feeding program they founded in 2000. McGovern praised Dole’s own track record of fighting hunger.

“You can have a brilliant issue that you can talk about around the clock, but if you want a solution to that issue, you need a bi-partisan effort,” he said.

The McGovern-Dole program has helped feed 21 million children in 41 countries.

McGovern said his experiences in Europe as a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber during World War II introduced him to the severe effect of poverty.

As his boat pulled into Naples harbor, children begged the sailors for candy bars. The captain cautioned crewmembers against feeding the children.

The day before 25 children drowned chasing after candy bars that had fallen into the water.

“I made up my mind that year, that if I ever had the chance to do something about hunger, I would,” McGovern said.

McGovern went on to serve as the director of President John F. Kennedy’s Food for Peace program and as the chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs.

He told the crowd about how an old CBS documentary introduced him to problems poor families in the U.S. had feeding their children

“We immediately provided reduced-price lunches for students who didn’t have any money,” McGovern said.

McGovern said the number of people who can’t afford food could be reduced by 85 percent in the U.S. if Congress took two simple steps.

“One is a modest increase in the minimum wage,” McGovern said. “The other would be a modest increase in the benefits of the food stamp program.”

He complimented the United States’ recent efforts to quell the obesity epidemic here by improving the national eating habits.

“We’ve made great strides in that direction but there are still other things that need to be done,” he said. “There are still 35 million Americans who do not have enough to eat.”

Hunger Solutions Minnesota, which sponsored the event, was founded in 2001. It is a group of six food banks that distribute food to almost 300 food shelves in Minnesota.

“This is all about bringing resources to people who provide service,” said Colleen Moriarty, the director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota.

Before the speech, the non-profit representatives met and mingled with each other and media people at a conference room on the top floor of the Como Lakeside Pavilion.

Paul Verrette, of the Charities Review Council, said the event was a good thing because many charities are losing money to the poor economy.

“This was a tough year for non-profits,” Verrette said. “Organizations that depend on the state budget are worried about the economy.”

Verrette said charities that rely on money from private sources would suffer, too. The size of most corporate donations depends on the stock market. If the market does poorly, then charities and non-profits lose money.

Jenny Butcher, coordinator of Minnesota’s Simplified Summer Food Program, said her charity has grown in the past year, despite the economy.

The summer is a tough time for children to find food because they lose access to the cheap or free meals provided by their schools, Butcher said.

The SSFP sponsors programs at community centers, churches, and schools across the state that feed them during those months.

“It helps take the burden off the food shelves because the food shelves are really feeling the strain during the summer,” Butcher said. “The bottom line is the number of meals being served to the children.”

Jordana Vitullo said her company, Hope for the City, has also done well during the past couple years. Hope for the City distributes corporate surplus to other non-profits.

Her work was inspired by personal experience

“I was a single parent when I started school,” Vitullo said. Vitullo said money from the government helped significantly and this sparked a desire to help others.

“I wanted to do what I could to make sure other families were getting along as well as I was,” she said. “I interned and was offered a position.”

After he finished speaking, the crowd stood in line in order to have books signed and meet McGovern. The man who faced off against both Nixon and world hunger sat down at the end of a long table, took out his pen, and started signing.

Patrick Anderson is a free-lance writer in the Twin Cities.