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'Leaders of today:' Bloomington teen addresses hunger at White House conference

Panelists seated at forum
National 4-H Council
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From left, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Avani Rai, Joshua Williams and Director of the Domestic Policy Council of the United States Susan Rice spoke during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.

A Bloomington teen who is helping to fight hunger has shared her work on a national stage.

Normal Community High School senior Avani Rai is 17, and has been concerned about food insecurity for a long time. Rai recalls going door-to-door collecting food donations for a neighborhood food drive when she was 8 years old.

“That’s the first time I was confronted with the reality that kids like me, families like mine, dealt with hunger and had to deal with that as a daily part of their lives,” Rai said during a White House conference on hunger, health and nutrition on Wednesday.

Avani Rai
YouTube
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Avani Rai

Rai told the gathering about the work she's done through 4-H and the Illinois Food Advocacy Team, a group of young people across the state that works to address food insecurity in their communities. The group awarded $23,000 in grants to 30 youth-led food security projects throughout Illinois.

Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council of the United States, commended Rai and 21-year-old co-panelist Joshua Williams from the Joshua’s Heart Foundation for taking on this mission at such young ages.

“You’ve seen the value of bringing other young people into the fold. What is the superpower of young people and why is it so important for them to be involved?” Rice asked.

Rai said young people want to help and there's no time to waste.

“We’re talking about some future scenario that youth are the future, they will be our leaders, but if anything, my experiences have shown me that youth aren’t just leaders of our future, they are our leaders of today,” Rai said.

The Biden administration has a goal to end hunger by 2030. Second Gentlemen Doug Emhoff led the discussion that Rai joined. Emhoff called hunger a nonpartisan issue.

“This is solvable. We’ve all seen it. We have the food. We have the money. You have the support of the federal government and all the local and state governments. You have the support of private enterprise and community leaders, “ Emhoff said.

It's not clear if the Biden administration has enough support in Congress for some of its anti-hunger initiatives. President Biden opened the conference calling for expanded nutrition assistance programs, a permanent extension of the child tax credit and a hike in the minimum wage.

Rai focused her attention on grassroots efforts to solve food insecurity.

“It has to be something that we bring back to our communities and that we use to motivate those around us, because service is infectious the way joy or laughter or happiness is infectious,” she said.

Rai said the U.S doesn't have a problem with food quantity, it has a problem with food quality.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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