The actor known for True Grit and The Big Lebowski stopped by a Little Rock elementary school Monday to have breakfast with students and to talk about child hunger in America. KUAR’s Jacob Kauffman covered the event featuring Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges.
After breakfast, students at Stephens Elementary gathered to take part in games promoting healthy foods while Jeff Bridges and leaders from a number of Arkansas hunger relief organizations mingled with teachers and onlookers.
Bridges spoke on behalf of the ‘No Kid Hungry’ campaign which coordinates funding and services with schools and looks for novel solutions like moving breakfast from before school to after the bell, in the classroom, when more students are present.
“There is some resistance to it, you know. Some teachers were coming and parents were coming, they were very concerned about the rugs, what if there’s milk spilled on the rugs, and what a terrible problem. Seems like we’ve got to get our priorities straight. Which is more important a soiled rug or our kids health and their education?” said Bridges.
Bridges’s long-term commitment to hunger issues is shared by members of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. The non-profit’s executive director Kathy Webb says data shows clear benefits and long-term savings linked with providing breakfast for school children.
“You can make a very compelling case to our congressman, to legislators of whatever party, to show we have facts and for a very small amount of money we can avoid a lot of future dollars spent on corrections, health care costs, and things like that,” said Webb.
The principal of Stephens Elementary, Sharon Brooks, said her experience mirrors what studies pointed to by Webb and the public-private partnership of ‘No Kid Hungry’ conclude.
"What really struck me first off as a principal is there were less discipline problems in the morning,” said Brooks.
Brooks said the school, which has between a 96 and 98 percent poverty rate, has now served breakfast after the bell, in the classroom for three years with encouraging results.
“We’re trying to teach math and reading and all that, it’s hard to do that when you’re sitting there hungry or some kids might have only had a meal the day before. For these students two meals a day at school may be all that they have. It’s hard to read and get the main idea when you’re sitting and you’re hungry, and your stomach is growling, and it’s not your fault that you didn’t get to school to get your breakfast,” said Brooks.
Arkansas is second in the nation in food insecurity according to figures from the US Department of Agriculture and nearly 24 percent of the state’s children face uncertainty at mealtime. But Bridges sees a reason for optimism.
“You’re leading, leading, you’re the number one state in the country for supplying low-income kids with summer meals which is so important because a lot of these kids depend on school for their nutrition and when school’s out so is the chow,” said Bridges.
Jacob Kauffman, KUAR News