Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, is once again setting a great example of how to tackle a difficult subject in an approachable and unique way. As part of their Food for Thought initiative, the organization is bringing the important issue of childhood hunger to light with the introduction of a new Muppet, Lily. And I got the chance to interview her.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 in 4 American children are food insecure (a.k.a. hungry) and 9.6 million of them are under the age of 6.
“In that Sesame Workshop model, we looked at how you structure a story around this issue in a way that presents the child’s point of view,” said Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President for Outreach and Educational Practices at Sesame Workshop. “We figured the best way was to create a wonderful Muppet who had experienced food insecurity so that we could really point it out from a child’s perspective.”
Enter Lily. A 7-year-old Muppet who knows all too well what it feels like to be hungry.
Abigail Quesinberry: Hi, Lily! It’s so nice to meet you! So, Lily, I understand that your family hasn’t always had enough food to eat. What’s it like to not know where your next meal is coming from?
Lily: Well, um, that’s kind of a hard question… My mom is really good about doing the best she can and my dad… I guess he’s been a little mopey lately. I try not to think about it too much. But I’m pretty lucky because there’s this thing at school where I get a free breakfast and lunch. Before that, it was really hard… my friends would go sit together at lunchtime and I would say I wasn’t hungry or I had a stomachache or something because I just was a little embarrassed, you know, or ashamed about it.
Is there a place that you found out about that families can go when they don’t have enough food?
Yeah, this is so cool. There’s this place in our town, and most towns have them, called the food pantry. And what you can do is collect canned foods, but you can also get different foods. Like there’s community gardens that also donate food to the food pantry or you can go right to the garden which I started doing with my friends. We started helping out at the garden and growing stuff.
Oh neat! So is that something that your friends can do to help, if they know that maybe you don’t have enough food to eat?
Yeah, it’s really cool because I went from feeling kind of like shy about it but then when I decided to do canned food drives, we were so happy because people were giving so much! Like, we didn’t even expect them to give so much. We just had bags, like grocery bags, but we actually had to get a wagon because we couldn’t carry everything!
Can you always tell who needs help and who doesn’t?
No – especially if they’re like me. The first time my family went to the food pantry, I saw this girl in my class and I had no idea that she was in the same situation I was in. Because she hardly spoke at all. I’m kind of shy, but not really shy. She’s really really shy so I went over and talked to her and we’re really good friends now. Her name’s Sophia.
I’m glad that you and Sophia became friends.
Yeah – I mean we probably can tell more than everybody else, you know. When you know what it’s like you can recognize feelings in others. Don’t you think so? I mean, you’re an adult so you have lots of feelings.
I think so. I think you can tell that other people are feeling the same way that you are sometimes.
And I think that’s probably a good thing that comes… I mean there’s nothing good about being hungry… it’s not a good feeling. Your stomach is in knots most of the time. You just drink water and try to trick yourself into not being hungry. But when you get help and when you realize that you can also give help to others, it makes you a stronger person. I think that’s the good part – learning how much you can receive by giving.
What kind of advice would you give other kids who might be in your same situation?
Well, I think for the most part, you should talk to your mom and dad about how you’re feeling. Like my dad feels bad so he doesn’t want to talk about it, but when I talked with my dad and I told him that I love him and that it wasn’t his fault that he lost his job and everything, he felt better. Also, if you are in school, usually your teacher is a safe place to go or the principal. Our school has counselors that you could talk to so I think that you could find a safe person at school that you can tell your situation because you probably can qualify for the lunch and breakfast program.
That’s really good advice, Lily. From going to the food bank and the community garden, are there any new foods that you learned to like that you didn’t like before?
Yeah… I didn’t really like canned yams. For some reason, people really like to give canned yams – I don’t know why! I kind of like them now, though. My mom, sometimes she’ll put brown sugar on them.
Well, I like canned yams too. So now we’re in the same club.
“The public response to Lily has been amazing,” said Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, “She has brought a sense of hope and reduction of stigma to the issue of food insecurity and raised awareness that childhood hunger is much more significant here in the U.S. than we ever thought. It was really an invisible crisis but the power of Lily is making it much more visible.”
You can find more information about Sesame Workshop’s Food for Thought initiative here.