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My White House Reflections

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Sam Kass, White House assistant chef and Food Initiative Coordinator, wore a green tie – it was appropriate since the meeting was on St. Patrick’s Day. Twenty-eight community and faith-based organizations (CFBO) from around the country, including Hazon represented by yours truly, had gathered for a one-day meeting to discuss First Lady Michelle Obama’s ambitious initiative, Let’s Move, to combat childhood obesity in one generation. Kass and Jocelyn Frye, the First Lady’s Policy Director started the day by talking about the meaningful role that faith-based organizations play in their communities. The White House is seeking a comprehensive strategy to tackle the dual problem of hunger and obesity and they see faith-based organizations as uniquely positioned to do this work by allowing children to connect body, mind and spirit. Kass spoke of the need for simple ways for people to transform their lives and to then become leaders for others to make healthy changes, too.

I learned that the Let’s Move Initiative is based on four pillars: Healthy Choices; Healthier Schools; Physical Activity; and Affordable & Accessible Healthy Food. The day focused around two main questions: What actions can CFBO take to implement these pillars? What CFBOs already run successful programs addressing this pillar? Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships directors lead the program – they included Joshua DuBois from the White House, Alexia Kelley from Health and Human Services (HHS), Max Finberg from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Peter Groff from US Department of Education (DoED), and John Kelly Senior Advisory for the Partnership. Organizations shared success storied – check out the work that the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and Come to the Table are doing – and challenges. The Partnership was seeking input from the people on the ground about what ideas are most relevant, what resources are most needed, and what partnerships can be created to help make this happen.

What is amazing is that this was the first time Hazon sat at the table while government officials sought direction and input for a national policy campaign. As the only Jewish organization at the table that is already engaged in this work, Hazon is uniquely positioned to continue to be a resource and an ally in the mission to eradicate childhood obesity in a generation. It is inspiring — and I look forward to keeping you all updated.

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