Calling hunger in a state where agriculture is big business “totally unacceptable,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Thursday that he is creating the Commonwealth Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide.
He signed it into being with Executive Order No. 34 during a morning ceremony at the Little House Green Grocery in Richmond’s Bellevue neighborhood. He named his wife, Dorothy McAuliffe, head of the new council.
“Virginia has a $52 billion agricultural industry, and we have 300,000 children a day go to school hungry,” the first lady said. “We need to do a better job of connecting the dots.”
The governor also pointed out the disparity and said it was an embarrassment that the state had so many hungry children.
“We should not tolerate one child going to school hungry,” he said.
His wife, the governor said, has kept ending childhood hunger “near to her heart” ever since they started dating 31 years ago.
Dorothy McAuliffe has worked on a number of food initiatives since her husband was sworn into office in January, including a federally funded program that offers free breakfast and lunch to every student in participating school districts.
“Hunger is real, and hunger is here,” she said.
“Too many hard-working Virginia families are choosing between paying their bills and buying groceries,” she said.
Access to “proper nutrition,” she said, “isn’t a privilege. It’s a basic human right.”
The council will focus on three areas:
- finding ways to make sure every child in the state has reliable, consistent access to nutritious food;
- increasing the state’s already robust agricultural business, particularly in sectors that provide food to people in the state;
- and working with local and regional groups already focused on food issues.
The first lady will be joined on the council by representatives of the secretaries of agriculture and forestry, commerce and trade, education, health and human resources, veterans and homeland security affairs and other state and local agencies. There will also be people with expertise in agriculture, business, education and health.
The council will put together a three-year plan.
Both McAuliffes made mention of Little House and its co-owners, Jess Goldberg and Erin Wright, and how they serve as an example to other small-business owners.
“This is a good example of a community business supporting locals farmers,” Dorothy McAuliffe said.
Later in the day, she said the council was in its formative stage and would likely develop as three separate entities that would report to her. She was hesitant to set any deadlines but said the goal was clear.
“We want to create something sustainable that will last beyond our time here,” she said.