Heroes Amongst Us: Amidst an Extraordinarily Challenging Year, These Californians Have Made Sure Kids & Families Are Fed

December 8, 2020

2020 has been a devastating year for our nation, as a global pandemic has killed nearly 300,000 Americans and left many more facing hunger and poverty. Here in California, wildfires have ravaged our state displacing families and presenting an additional threat to their health and economic stability.

But amidst the devastation, there are stories of hope – among them, the champions that have worked tirelessly to ensure kids in America have food in their bellies throughout this tumultuous year.

School nutrition staff have emerged as the unsung heroes, working day in and day out – at times putting their own health at risk to serve students with a smile. At the same time, champions have rallied around childhood hunger like never before, using their voices to draw attention to the impact the pandemic has had and build awareness around critical programs that exist to make sure kids and families have enough to eat. 

Today, we celebrate them. Please join us in saluting these 10 champions and the many others like them:

A big thank you to our Hunger Heroes like Trini Valencia from Natomas Unified School District for your tireless work to get kids the nutritious foods they need.

1) No Kid Hungry California’s League of Hunger Heroes are feeding kids in good times and bad

It’s no easy task to feed kids when they’re not in school – nonetheless to feed them safely amidst a deadly pandemic. But school nutrition staff across California have stepped up to meet the challenge – innovating and adapting their programs in real time to make sure kids are nourished in these unprecedented circumstances. To recognize them, No Kid Hungry California announced its first annual League of Hunger Heroes earlier this year. The 2020 cohort included 328 Californians – school nutrition staff, custodians, bus drivers, teachers, parents, and volunteers – that were nominated by their peers for their tireless work in communities around the state.


2) Rialto USD declared racism a public health crisis, resolving to dismantle racism on campus and in the school community

Systemic racism is at the heart of many children’s experience of hunger. The Rialto Unified School District, located in California’s Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, is a leader when it comes to addressing racial equity and inclusion on campus and in the school community. This summer, Rialto USD’s School Board passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis and resolving to actively participate in the dismantling of racism on campuses and in the school community. The District has committed to address racial inequity and implicit bias in schools through racial equity and workplace bias training for all district personnel, educational curriculum addressing the history and current effects of racism in the United States and in California and by incorporating anti-racist practices into school policies and regulations. 


3) California Department of Education is a critical partner in making sure kids have the nutrition they need to thrive

Thank you to the dedicated staff in CDE’s Nutrition Division for their leadership and support.

No Kid Hungry California’s partnership with the California Department of Education has been instrumental in our work to feed kids, both before and during the coronavirus crisis. Back in February, we co-hosted the first ever California Child Nutrition Access Institute, a two-day convening in Sacramento that brought together leaders from around California committed to influencing child nutrition in their communities. Since the pandemic hit, the agency was instrumental in getting $192 million in funding allocated for emergency school meals. They’ve also hosted bi-weekly virtual town halls, convening school nutrition professionals to share best practices and inspiration.


Staff and volunteers ready for distribution.

4) Central California Food Bank helped feed children and families devastated by the largest wildfire in California’s history

Many Californians have struggled in the face of multiple crises this year, as a pandemic raged on at the same time that multiple wildfires destroyed homes and property across the state. The Creek Fire – the largest individual wildfire in our state’s history – was extraordinarily destructive, forcing many families to lose their homes and abandon their food supply along with most of their belongings. The Central California Food Bank has been a critical lifeline for these families as they face an uncertain financial future. The Food Bank has distributed perishable and non-perishable food and water for Californians in North Fork, Coarsegold, Oakhurst and additional communities devastated by the blaze.


5) Jon & Vinny teamed up with Amazon Studios and No Kid Hungry to feed thousands of kids and families in the LA region

Thank you Jon, Vinny and Amazon Studios!

When the coronavirus closed both restaurants and schools this spring, chefs and restaurateurs (and No Kid Hungry Hero Award winners) Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo were determined to keep their staff employed while also serving some of the most vulnerable Angelenos. With the generous support of Amazon Studios, the duo provided 14,000 meals for kids at El Rancho Unified School District. In June, they went on to expand their footprint to additional school districts, serving more than 10,000 meals at Compton USD and 15,000 meals to Mountain View USD. Their hard work and ingenuity kept farmers and food service staff employed, while ensuring kids in the Los Angeles region had enough to eat during the crisis.


Orange we glad Mayor Steinberg is a champion against hunger.

6) Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is a steadfast advocate for the nutrition programs that feed kids

Even before the pandemic, Mayor Steinberg was a champion of nutrition programs and the vulnerable children and families they serve. In March, he partnered with No Kid Hungry California to promote the importance of school breakfast in Sacramento. When the pandemic hit, Mayor Steinberg took action to address rising hunger and hardship in the city, allocating $500,000 from Sacramento’s federal relief funds to support the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. He also joined mayors across the country in asking Congress to increase SNAP benefits and extend Pandemic EBT.


7) Chef Patrick Mulvaney has kept restaurant workers employed by feeding the community

Sacramento was among the first in the nation hit by the coronavirus in March, and chef and longtime No Kid Hungry supporter Patrick Mulvaney was quick with a solution to keep restaurant workers employed while also feeding kids and families in need. He helped launch Family Meal Sacramento – a partnership between seven Sacramento restaurants to provide free, pre-cooked meals to communities in need. With support from No Kid Hungry, Mulvaney’s team expanded the program to provide free meals for kids in Sacramento City Unified School District. By also providing meals for parents and caregivers, they fed the larger community while increasing participation in the school meal programs.


8) Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Bob Nelson was an early adopter of no cost school meals for all kids during the pandemic

Thank you to Fresno USD nutrition staff and volunteers.

When schools unexpectedly shut down in March, Superintendent Nelson went right to work creating a safety net for Fresno Unified students. He was quick to open the doors to the entire community by providing meals to everyone, big or small, no questions asked. As he told us earlier this year, “The last thing that will go down at Fresno Unified is feeding kids everyday. We will extend our feeding program for as long as we can to as many people as we can. Anyone from our school households can come to our school sites and request as many meals as they need to for their household. We do not want to put up barriers towards families getting the food that they need.” True to his word, since this summer Fresno Unified has served more than one million meals to the community and they show no sign of stopping.


9) The Quad-County School Meals Access Collaborative brought together public health experts from four Southern California counties to feed kids

The coronavirus created both a health crisis and a hunger crisis here in California, so it makes perfect sense that four county offices of public health would team up to make sure kids were fed. Under the leadership of County Nutrition Action Plan (CNAP) coordinators from San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties, the Collaborative led a series of webinars to support school districts as they adapted their meal programs to sustain participation in these unprecedented circumstances.  Their leadership helped facilitate the sharing of best practices, allowing school nutrition professionals to keep up their heroic work without having to recreate the wheel.


10) The Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County stepped up to meet the increased need in their community

Great summers DO start here! Thank you to the staff & volunteers feeding hungry kids in Kern County.

With schools closed, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County recognized they had a critical role to play to ensure kids in Bakersfield and Kern County still got the meals they rely on.  To meet the increased need in the community, they partnered with No Kid Hungry California to expand meal service and implement strict health and safety measures to keep staff and students safe. They extended hours at their three Boys & Girls Clubs sites to facilitate distance learning, while operating grab and go service at three additional locations. This allowed them to provide breakfast, lunch, snacks and supper to all kids 18 and under, serving a total of 125,000 meals each month. Kudos to Chelsea Dow, Maggie Cushing and all the phenomenal Boys and Girls Clubs staff for their leadership and for making these difficult times a bit less stressful for the families they serve.



About No Kid Hungry

No child should go hungry in America. But 1 in 4 kids could face hunger due to the coronavirus pandemic. No Kid Hungry is ending childhood hunger through effective programs that provide kids with the food they need. This is a problem we know how to solve. No Kid Hungry is a campaign of Share Our Strength, an organization working to end hunger and poverty. Join us at NoKidHungry.org