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The healthy development of all children benefits all of society by providing a solid foundation for economic productivity, responsible citizenship, and strong communities. Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, Director, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University.

After living for sixteen years in Fortaleza, the capital of the State of Ceará in Northeast Brazil, the plight of homeless and hungry street children continues to haunt me. One scene in particular. It unfolded during our first year in Fortaleza.

One evening around seven-thirty, my husband and two sons – then three and five years old – waited with me for a dental appointment. The dentist’s office was located at a busy intersection in Centro, downtown Fortaleza, where buses and other vehicles rumbled by.

At the entrance of the office, I watched with a mother’s concern at two boys – about two and six years old – standing on the narrow concrete divider in the middle of the two-way, four-lane Avenida. Each time the traffic light turned red, the older boy moved from vehicle to vehicle asking for money.

Those boys were just two of an estimated (2010) five thousand children and adolescents living on the streets of Brazil.

The plight of homeless and hungry American children and adolescents is not as visible to me as they were in Brazil. No child has approached me at an open-air restaurant or on the beach to ask me for something to eat. No child has snatched a bag of French fries from my hand as I wait for a bus. Yet, one out of every fifty – or approximately 1.5 million – American children go to sleep without a home of their own each year (Campaign to End Child Homelessness, http://www.homelesschildrenamerica.org).

As millions of parents have lost their homes and jobs due to our political-economic crisis, the number of children facing hunger has grown: 14.7 million, according to Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization (http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/child-hunger-facts.aspx).

In their battle to control growing deficits, states and the federal government are slashing the safety nets of the unemployed with budget cuts. With reduced donations, national food banks cannot cope with the increased demand for food assistance.

We need to inform ourselves about what is happening under our own roof. If you are ready to learn about our shameful state and if you would like to help American children and families facing hunger, watch the video, Hunger in America: How to Help, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, 23 August 2011: http://abcnews.go.com/US/hunger-america/story?id=14342629.