Child Poverty Is No Laughing Matter–Raising Money To Fight It Can Be
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
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Consider these sobering statistics. About 15 million children or 21% of all kids living in the United States are being raised in homes with incomes below the federal poverty threshold. Around the globe, 385 million children live in poverty. An estimated 8,500 children die every single day as a result of poor nutrition.
It is difficult to think of a more serious subject or of one more deserving of attention and immediate action. Comic Relief USA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organized as an offshoot of the Comic Relief organization founded in 1985 in the United Kingdom.
Founded in 2014 with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Comic Relief USA, echoing the work of its UK partner, hosts Red Nose Day each year on the last Thursday of May (this year, May 23) as a fun kick-off to summer. The show airs on NBC and this year will feature a new short sequel to Four Weddings and a Funeral called One Red Nose Day and a Wedding, by the writer-director of Love Actually and Notting Hill, Richard Curtis. The short film will feature Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Kristin Scott Thomas and other stars from the original.
The timing of the show coincides with the end of the school year for most children, a time when reliable school lunches disappear and food insecurity peaks for many.
So far, the U.S. nonprofit with just 25 employees has raised over $210 million, about $150 million of which comes from its signature Red Nose Day campaigns. Comic Relief USA does not operate its own relief programs, rather it selects partners through whom to deliver aid, split equally between domestic and international partners.
One partner is Feeding America, which in addition to operating and supporting food banks across the country, provides food for the summer to families in need.
Janet Scardino, Comic Relief USA CREDIT: COMIC RELIEF USA
Janet Scardino, founding CEO of Comic Relief USA, says, “They’re really focused on backpack programs that allow kids to be heroes at home by bringing 30 pounds of food home.” [Be sure to watch the full interview in the video player at the top of this article.]
The money comes from corporate partners, donations from the public and from the sale of red noses to the public at Walgreens stores across the country. This year, for the first time, the noses come in five varieties.
Red fights child poverty
Ruby focuses funds on housing
Rusty puts money into educational programs
Scarlet works on food for hungry kids
Rojo strives to provide medical care
Mars Wrigley Confectionary uses its M&Ms brand to support Red Nose Day. Lee Andrews, vice president of corporate affairs for the Americas, helped bridge the pond when Red Nose Day came to the U.S. “I have worked with Comic Relief and Red Nose Day over the past 10 years, helping form the initial UK partnership with our MALTESERS Brand. Moving over to the US business several years ago, I was able to help establish the relationship between Comic Relief and M&M’S to set up the first US Red Nose Day back in 2015.”
Mars makes a corporate donation of at least $1 million each year. In addition, employees raise money for the event. “As of 2018, Mars Associates in the US have raised over $350,000 through their own fundraising efforts,” Andrews says.
Scardino, the CEO for the US nonprofit, has an unusual background for a nonprofit executive. She is a former television producer who has worked at MTV, the Disney Channel, AOL and American Idol. For the unique role she plays in the nonprofit arena, she’s been perfectly cast.
“Comic Relief USA’s mission is to harness the power of entertainment to drive positive change towards our vision of a just world free from poverty,” she says.
In addition to Feeding America, nonprofit partners include UnidosUS, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Covenant House, Children’s Health Fund, Save the Children and The Global Fund.
“I’m so proud that one year we had a full one hour of Bear Grylls on NBC dedicated to really showing–with Bear and Julia Roberts and taking a very difficult trek up into the rural parts of Kenya–how hard it is to get cold-chain vaccines to kids who are really, really far from any facilities. And by doing that we’re so close to eradicating polio,” Scardino says, noting the support of the Gates Foundation.
Highlighting the work of another partner, Scardino mentions meeting a young man in Los Angeles who had been homeless at age 14 for a period of four years. She gushed at meeting him “years later as a as a man who had not only been brought into Covenant House but importantly had really been given the therapy and the support and a roof over his head as well as training that allowed him to get an amazing job” that allowed him to buy his own home and support his family.
As a media executive, Scardino is proud of the reach achieved over the past four years. “We have over 60% awareness and 45% of American could actually tell you that we’re a charity that is focused on children living in poverty.”
Andrews, the Mars executive, summed it up. “Comic Relief strives to create a world free from poverty, and spends the money raised in the best possible way to tackle the root causes of poverty and social injustice. Red Nose Day is about coming together to have fun and make a difference, raising money and awareness to help children who need us most, here in America and around the world.”
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