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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Your readers who have expressed concern about hungry children in their communities expose one of our nation's worst secrets.

Despite our abundance, some 12 million American children are not getting the food they need because low-wage jobs don't permit their parents to pay the rent, pay medical bills and still buy enough food. My colleagues in the scientific community agree that the cost of child hunger is simply too steep to ignore. Even the mildest form of under-nutrition robs children of their natural abilities, sapping their capacity to think and diminishing the value of their classroom education.

Fortunately, we have some answers to this problem in the form of EXISTING federal child-nutrition programs -- school lunch, breakfast, summer food, and after-school snacks and meals. The federal government reimburses states and schools for the cost of the meals, and any school or qualified community agency can use these programs to ensure that no child goes hungry.

Abby, these programs have been proven to work. Research shows that kids who get fed are sick less, pay more attention in class, and even do better on standardized achievement tests. The problem is that many districts offer only lunch and not the other programs.

Please tell your readers they can help to end hunger by seeing that responsible adults in their communities fully use these programs to protect the youngsters who need them. -- DR. J. LARRY BROWN, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY, BOSTON

DEAR DR. BROWN: Thank you for an important letter. Ending hunger seems overwhelming to many people. However, there are things we can all do to end this disgrace. I recently participated in a national child hunger symposium, led on a bipartisan basis by Sharon Davis, wife of California governor Gray Davis, and Columba Bush, wife of Florida governor Jeb Bush. A national initiative to address this issue is being led by actor/activist Jeff Bridges and the Entertainment Industry Foundation. It is designed to mobilize elected officials and educators in all 50 states to end childhood hunger, in part by ensuring that these available and effective programs reach the vulnerable children who need them. It offers a remedy for a problem that no longer needs to endanger millions of our youngest citizens.

Readers interested in expanding these programs in their communities should visit the Entertainment Industry Foundation Web site at www.hungerfreeamerica.org or write: Hunger Free America -- DA, 11132 Ventura Blvd., Suite 401, Studio City, CA 91604.

DEAR ABBY: I want to tell you about a little boy named Jakub. His family went to the Dominican Republic for a vacation. They could not believe the poverty they saw there. Jake's parents caught him trying to give away his shoes, but they were too small for the other child.

Jake returned home and told his Uncle Tony, who owns a construction company: "You have to go there with me and my parents and bring your men. We have to build houses for those kids."

Abby, Jakub is 4 years old. I love that kid. -- LEO R. LALONDE, EASTPOINTE, MICH.

DEAR LEO: From the mouths of babes. Jakub is not only a caring and generous child, but wise beyond his years.

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