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Jeff Bridges: Hungry for Change

The veteran actor talks about his drive to feed millions of hungry children -- plus his approach to acting, fitness, and staying balanced.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

"16.7 million."

When Jeff Bridges says the number, you hear in his voice frustration, anger, and incomprehension at its sheer size.

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"16.7 million American kids -- that's nearly one out of four kids in this country -- are at risk of not getting enough to eat," the Academy Award–winning actor says. "And one of the tragic elements is that it doesn't have to be that way."

The one thing you don't hear when he talks about the problem is resignation. Bridges is committed to bringing that number down to zero. Ending childhood hunger has been his goal -- even as the number of hungry kids has grown higher and higher -- for more than 25 years.

Jeff Bridges and the End Hunger Network

His interest began in the mid-1980s, when images of famine-tortured people in Ethiopia were waking people up to the horrors of starvation. Moved by what he saw on TV and in newspapers, Bridges attended a program sponsored by The Hunger Project, a New York City-based nonprofit that works to end hunger around the world.

"I got educated," says Bridges, 61. He also got involved.

"You have to look inside yourself and see what you are willing to do," he says. "I looked inside myself. And I said, I'm an entertainer, there's a place for that in this."

So, in 1983, Bridges helped found the End Hunger Network, endhunger.com, based in Fairfax, Va., which draws on celebrities and entertainment industry leaders to raise awareness about the issue. (Bridges' organization is not connected to a Houston organization with the same name.)

Over the years, the End Hunger Network has been involved in some of the highest-profile anti-hunger events, including 1985's Live Aid benefit concert, which was broadcast to 1.5 billion people worldwide and raised more than $100 million to aid Africa.

In 1996, the network co-produced Hidden in America, a made-for-TV movie about an out-of-work father trying to support his family. At first too proud to ask for help, he eventually applies for food stamps so he can feed his children. Beau Bridges, Jeff's older brother, played the lead, a part for which he received Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.

The No Kid Hungry Campaign

In 2010, the End Hunger Network allied itself with the Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit Share Our Strength (www.strength.org) to support SOS's No Kid Hungry Campaign, a nationwide effort to end childhood hunger in the United States by 2015. In November, Bridges traveled to Washington, D.C., where he advocated for increased federal funding for school and summer meal programs for kids at the launch of the No Kid Hungry Campaign.

Speaking to a National Press Club audience, the actor said he's often asked why he has taken this cause to heart for so many years. He thinks it's an odd question. "It seems like the most natural thing in the world for me, really -- I was born in a very lucky bed. My folks were fortunate enough to be able to provide for their kids, as I'm fortunate enough to be able to provide for my three daughters.

"But I can imagine what it must be like, that feeling of failure and depression…if you are not able to afford to put food in front of your kids."

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