"There were lean years when we didn't know how we were going to pay mortgages by making music for a living and chasing a dream," says Karen Fairchild. "But the families that we're talking about and these children, they're struggling. I mean, they don't know what they're going to eat for supper tonight. It's not even about the month. It's about right now, filling those bellies so they can do great things with their lives."
During a recent visit to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Nashville, the quartet chatted with reporters about the new initiative which helps raise awareness that nearly 17 million children in the U.S. are hungry. The campaign is co-sponsored by ConAgra Foods. And right after the informal interview session, they started grabbing boxes of food and dropping them into backpacks.
Can you share why you're here today?
Phillip Sweet: We're here trying to raise awareness that this is going on in our own backyard. Coming to this food bank, we're going to stuff some backpacks and do some work. There are kids back there packing up groceries right now as we speak. We're just trying to bring awareness that one in five kids are hungry in our backyard and our country, and we need to act on it.
What was it about this particular organization that drew you in?
Jimi Westbrook: I think it's because we are parents and we have kids. Especially with young kids, it's all about protecting them and keeping them healthy and safe. That's what's on your mind as a parent, especially with the little ones you have. And then you think about how you can't provide the most basic need of food. There are children who are coming to school -- and they may be hiding it because they're embarrassed -- but they haven't eaten. They didn't eat the night before and they don't have much for lunch. You have to do something. I think awareness is the best thing because I think a lot of Americans don't know this is going on. We always want to go to other countries and help -- and that's great -- but we've got to help our own, too. It's so prevalent in our country.
How does social media help you interact with fans when you're raising that awareness?
Fairchild: It's instantaneous. If we want to try something out -- whether it's a song or an idea or merchandise -- instantly, they're like, "I love that" or "I hate that." So it's great when we can use it for something that is meaningful, like today.
The holidays are coming up, which can make this cause even more important, right?
Sweet: Yeah, it's important all year long but even more so this time of year. I think one good thing is to bring awareness because we're all thinking about being with our family and being together, feeding and feasting and eating turkey. And to think there might be others out there who don't have that beautiful gift, it's not right. We've got to do something about that.
Kimberly Schlapman: It's the time of year for just abundance. Our kids are making Christmas lists and, thank God, there's not food on those Christmas lists. But for some kids, there are [those requests] because that's not something they have on their shelves every day. Kids will be out of school more on these holidays, and they're going to need to be fed more than they are because they won't be at school. And when their friends are talking about what they're getting for Christmas. ... I think the sweetest and saddest part about today is that we're stuffing backpacks. It's great that we're taking care of kids, but it's sad that we have to stuff backpacks for them to take food home. That shouldn't be happening in our country, and that's what we want to get out there. Kids in our very own country are hungry! We can fix that. We have to.
Fairchild: We can talk about education in this country. We can talk about music in schools. All those things are important, but if you're hungry, your brain doesn't work right. You can't be creative. You can't learn. You don't feel things the way you should. The basic way to love someone, to me, is to feed them. In its most primitive form, we have to feed someone if we're going to say that we love them.
What can families do together for this cause?
Sweet: I think it's really awesome if a family came out here and did this together. Not only are you helping by spending your time and volunteering, but you're teaching an example to your children that you bring with you. We're all here together, and we're helping our community. And we're helping kids that might be in their classrooms, or it could be their friends. We just don't know. So that's an awesome thing to get to do.
Fairchild: I know everyone's so busy, especially during the holidays, and you get inundated with mailers that say, "Give to this, give to that." But if you're checking out at the grocery store and see those little sacks there that are already pre-filled, they might be for your local food bank. And if you can afford the extra $10, maybe that's the way you do it. You pick it up and put it in your cart, and you teach your children.
Schlapman: Or you put something back that costs $10 that you really don't need and get kids that essential food.