Chef Jason Alley on Growing up with Food Insecurity + Why #NoKidHungry Matters More Than Ever

Jason AlleyAs we continue to celebrate Dine Out for No Kid Hungry Month, Share Our Strength supporter chef Jason Alley, co-owner of Comfort, which just marked its 13th year in business, and Pasture restaurants in Richmond, Virginia, discusses his experiences with childhood hunger, why school breakfast and lunch should be available to all students, and the worst thing you can donate to a food bank.

You faced food insecurity regularly as a child. How did that affect your everyday life?

It creates massive stress. I grew up in southwest Virginia around the Appalachian Mountains, and we were certainly not alone in being poor in that area. There’s a lot of poverty. Food was always scarce. Growing up rural was nice because we had plenty of friends that hunted, and my grandmother had a garden, but that didn’t always make the cut. So food was always first and foremost on our minds all the time, like, how are we gonna make this happen? How are we going to get everybody fed?

Can you remember some of the toughest periods?

There were many times when I moved to Florida with my mom when there were weeks and weeks in which it was literally school lunch and white rice at home. That would just be it for extended periods of time.

As a child, how did you sit through school and succeed when you’re so undernourished?

I didn’t really succeed. I was unmotivated to be at school. Think about if you’re sitting at your desk and you had to skip breakfast, and now it’s lunchtime. You bottom out. You find yourself dozing off at your desk. You get hangry and cranky. Now, imagine that being a habitual thing. To think anyone is going to be successful under those circumstances is just unreasonable.

The free breakfast and lunch programs that a lot of schools have gone to are crucial in setting the stage for success for these kids. Our kids are starting public middle school for the first time this year, and their school has free breakfast and free lunch for every kid in the school.

When it’s available to everyone, I would imagine there is less of a stigma.

When I was a kid I had my little free lunch card. You’re going through puberty, kids are already starting to get bullied, you don’t have the cool clothes, and now, oh yeah, here’s your poor kid card. Have a great day! That’s just an added stressor. I think it is really progressive for a school to alleviate that stress. You know what? It’s free for everybody. Nobody pays, nobody gets singled out.

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Were there other resources to help you and your family?

We benefited from local food banks and a lot of church food closets. There were plenty of days where we would have been even hungrier had that not been available.

I feel like it’s hard for some people to take that step and go to food pantries, as if there were shame in it.

We’re a shaming culture. We’re really good at it. If you’re hungry and you need help, there’s nothing wrong with that. It sucks to feel as though you have to ask for charity, but it’s more important to look at the positives it brings. It makes everybody feel good. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s working at or going to a food pantry or food bank that is going to be looking down their nose at you. It’s a shared experience. If you can accept the help for what it is, which is help and generosity, and you can use that to get yourself moving forward, then everything is working how it’s supposed to work.

Being surrounded by the bounty of food you are able to serve, are you ever conflicted?Continue Reading

September is Dine Out for No Kid Hungry Month

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Every year, the restaurant industry unites in an extraordinary showing of solidarity to prove feeding people for a living is more than a profession; it’s a passion. It is a community that understands the power of food in America, where one in five kids struggles with hunger. An end to childhood hunger is within our reach, and the food service industry is leading the way. September is Dine Out for No Kid Hungry Month. Find a restaurant and make a reservation to join us* as we support No Kid Hungry in a most delicious way.



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Tweet of the Week: Share Our Strength + Dine Out to Help End Childhood Hunger

OpenTable is a proud supporter of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, so this tweet from diner and SOS supporter Sara Elizabeth Dill, aka @SEDLAW15, really spoke to us. Happening now in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, and San Francisco, Share Our Strength’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry is a national campaign to end childhood hunger in America by 2015, and brings together thousands of restaurants and millions of diners. Participating restaurants will raise funds through a variety of ways to support No Kid Hungry. Make a reservation to dine at a supporting OpenTable restaurant and do your part to help end childhood hunger in America! Browse restaurants in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, and San Francisco. And, thanks to Sara for standing with Share Our Strength!


OpenTable Bakes to Support Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign!

As you know, we’re big supporters of Share Our Strength and Dine Out for No Kid Hungry, which runs through September 24, 2011. To take our commitment a step further, OpenTable held our first annual in-house bake sale! Our participation in the Great American Bake Sale was a complete success, with employees baking and buying to raise nearly $1,200! Every cent will go directly to Share Our Strength’s efforts to stamp out childhood hunger.

There were treats both sweet (cupcakes!) and savory (soft pretzels!), and, by the time the day was over, only crumbs remained.

Peep some pictures of our baked goods-for-good! Then, head over to Share Our Strength for help in running a bake sale at your workplace that will benefit No Kid Hungry! And, don’t forget to dine out to during Dine Out for No Kid Hungry!