Childhood Hunger Hits the Street...Sesame Street

Lily, a new Muppet on 'Sesame Street,' is unlike other Muppets. She and her family don't always have enough food to eat. Lily represents a significant milestone in the children's television show. It's an opportunity to begin teaching children about the harrowing issue of child hunger.

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lily muppet sesame street teaching kids about hunger

The Story of Lily

On Growing Hope Against Hunger, the new prime-time special that takes place on Sesame Street, Elmo and new Muppet Lily have a serious conversation about Lily's life. She shares with Elmo that her family sometimes goes to a food pantry and that she can't take meals for granted. Elmo, like many children who might be watching Sesame Street, realizes that he's never had to think much about not having enough food.

The program also features Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams Paisley, who offer fun songs and sketches, as well as other regular Sesame Street Muppets. It's a follow-up to the earlier special Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget. Both specials address the issue that 17 million American children, or approximately one in four, are food insecure. This means that like Lily, financial instability results in them not receiving enough food each day to meet their basic nutritional needs.

Helping Children Understand

The producers of Sesame Street recognized that teaching children about hunger can be a challenge; their goal was to help children understand the issue while maintaining enough of an upbeat attitude in order to avoid depressing their audience. The special includes a series of documentary vignettes that profile real children facing hunger.

For example, a 7-year-old named Josie has an out-of-work father, causing her to lack money for snacks at school. She drinks water from the fountain in order to feel full. While every real story about child hunger may not have a positive ending, Josie's father does ultimately find work. The girl responds to her newfound security by delivering food to those still in need, thereby teaching the audience about a way in which they can help.

No Stranger to Tough Issues

The preponderance of fuzzy Muppets, happy songs and general silliness can make Sesame Street seem like an unassuming, unchallenging show that's built to pacify children. Yet it's always served a deeper purpose. The Growing Hope Against Hunger special was followed by a special episode on bullying called The Good Birds Club. In fact, Sesame Street has tackled important, difficult issues as far back as 1983, when the show decided to confront the death of actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper, with a special episode about dying.

Growing Hope Against Hunger aspires to not just inform children, but also to teach them how to act. It covers food drives and other ways to volunteer, as well as the importance of eating healthy, nutritious foods. Ideally, Lily is not just another Muppet, but a Muppet who helps children understand hunger as a real problem with real solutions.

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