Academy Award winning Actor Jeff Bridges — maybe best known for his roles as Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski from “The Big Lebowski,” Rooster Cogburn from the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of Charles Portis’ “True Grit,” and his Oscar-winning turn in 2009’s “Crazy Heart” — was at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock at noon today, using his star power to help push a student breakfast program to help fight child hunger. Bridges shared the podium with Bill Shore, CEO of the non-profit Share Our Strength, Gov. Mike Beebe, and Cynthia Collins, principal of Little Rock’s Franklin Elementary. Bridges and Shore were in Arkansas to promote Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, which was launched in October 2010. The program seeks to provide children at participating schools with a nutritious breakfast during the first class period of the day.
Arkansas has been a leader in the No Kid Hungry campaign, providing over 737,000 school breakfasts to Arkansas children in 2013, according to a handout from Share Our Strength.
Bridges said he first began trying to personally do something about global hunger in 1983. In 1985 — around the time ketchup was being reclassified as a vegetable by the government, he said — Bridges began to see articles about hunger in America, particularly among children. Once he became aware of the issue, Bridges said he had to ask himself: “Am I just going to go back to sleep, back to being ignorant?”
Bridges said the issue of childhood hunger is an “unsexy issue,” because it’s embarrassing: embarrassing for children who don’t get enough to eat and embarrassing “for those who work in the field to admit that we live in a country that would allow kids to go hungry.” He said the corresponding issue is childhood obesity, which is often caused by children who don’t get enough healthy foods. Bridges mentioned his friend, the late futurist Buckminster Fuller, who said that the average person can act as a “trim tab”: a sort of miniature rudder on the much larger rudder of a huge ship, designed to coax the bigger rudder around. “We all have the power to turn the ship,” Bridges said. “We’re all connected to people who have more power than us or more influence than us.” He called on people to look inside themselves to find their strengths, and then use those strengths to help solve the problem of childhood hunger.
Principal Collins with Franklin Elementary said the No Kid Hungry campaign’s “Breakfast Before the Bell” program is working in her school. She said that scores on literacy tests are up 29 percent since the program started, while math test scores are up 13 percent. She said there’s also been a drop off in the number of children going to the school nurse with stomach pains related to being hungry.
In response to a closing question from the audience about what an individual can do to help further the campaign, Bridges gave the obligatory Charles Portis shout-out, mentioning the Coen Brothers’ film before saying it’ll take True Grit to end childhood hunger.