The issue of hunger first crystallized for me in the 1980s, when the AIDS crisis was decimating New York at an incredible rate. I had quite a few close friends and colleagues who were stricken with the disease early on. As devastating as their experiences were, they were fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family.
It made me think, what if this happens to someone who doesn't have anyone to help? So I got involved with God's Love We Deliver, a local organization that brings home-cooked meals to people who are ill, making strangers feel like neighbors in a small town.
We all fantasize about those idyllic communities where Mrs. Johnson comes over with chicken soup when you're sick or someone's Aunt Sally shows up brandishing a casserole. Unfortunately, we live in a world where people are often alone and isolated—but God's Love is that neighbor, that family, that friend. It's grassroots at its best. And the results are immediate: Volunteers can chop up vegetables for a stew and know that it will be delivered that day to someone in need. (Read "The New Face of Hunger" in National Geographic magazine.)
My goal for Watch Hunger Stop, the philanthropic initiative I launched in 2013, is the same: to help fight global hunger in a way that is both personal and immediate. I want our supporters to feel like the people they help are their neighbors because, in our interconnected world, that's true. And I want to know that what we're doing is working.
Nourishment shouldn't be a question for anyone anywhere, not when the planet now produces twice as much food as is needed to support the global population. Yet the reality is that one in nine people go to bed hungry every night. According to a recent report prepared by United Nations agencies including the World Food Programme (WFP), 805 million people worldwide do not get the nutrition they need to lead a healthy life. We must do better. (See "Study Sheds Light on Broadening U.S. Hunger Problem.")
Watch Hunger Stop is a partnership with the WFP, the world's largest humanitarian organization fighting hunger. Specifically, we support the WFP's school meal program, a sophisticated approach to hunger that involves not just food but also education, community organization, support of local farmers, and other efforts that help bring stability and self-sufficiency to communities in need.
One of the best things about the school meals program, in my opinion, is that it has a truly grassroots aspect. In many countries, each community is responsible for administering the program, with local residents cooking and serving the meals their children eat. It's about neighborhoods, big and small.
Our partnership with the WFP works because we both do very different things very well. At Michael Kors, we know how to communicate optimism, excitement, and change. The WFP knows how to move tons of food a day across jungles and deserts.
At Michael Kors, we work hard to frame the discussion about hunger in positive ways, spotlighting not only the need but also the people and actions meeting that need. Because let's be real: If all you hear about is sadness and disaster, you're going to change the channel.
But what's also real is the fact that the fight against hunger is working: The number of chronically undernourished people has dropped by more than 200 million since 1992. When I talk about Watch Hunger Stop, I never fail to mention that hunger is solvable. (See "World Making Progress Against Hunger, Report Finds, but Large Pockets of Undernourished Persist.")
Watch Hunger Stop is designed to fight hunger according to what we do best. We developed a special watch collection, the 100 Series, to raise awareness and funds. We encourage donations to the WFP in our stores during October to highlight World Food Day on October 16. We talk to our 21-million-plus fans on social media about what they can do to make a difference and recruit models and influencers to help spread the word across their own social media platforms.
The fact is that we're talking to people who are plugged into the world in new ways. I don't buy the old argument that style and serious issues can't go together—the people in my office disprove that daily—but I do think you need to reach people where they're engaged. And a lot of people are engaged in fashion.
While it's rewarding to know that we've helped the WFP deliver millions of meals to hungry children, it may be even more important that we've taught millions of fans about the WFP and its goal of achieving a world with zero hunger.
This summer I asked Halle Berry, our partner in Watch Hunger Stop, to accompany the WFP to Nicaragua to see the school meals program in action. National Geographic filmed the trip for us—you can see the video on our website. Halle and the members of my staff who went on the field visit were inspired and moved by what they saw.
Jinotega, the region they visited, is a lush, green valley surrounded by mountains veiled by wisps of clouds. Already poor, Jinotega has suffered even more in recent years due to a coffee blight that has left many families without an income. The school meals program there is a local affair: Food provided by the WFP is stored and prepared in the homes of local families, and served by parents at the school.
Watching the lively children of Jinotega laugh and play, you wouldn't necessarily know that a simple lunch of rice and beans, tortillas, and a micronutrient-fortified drink is the one nutritious meal most of them receive each day.
But it is.
And like bringing soup to a homebound neighbor, helping to provide that one meal is a small gesture that can help make a big difference.