Leslie Isakoff grew up climbing, flying and spelunking in Alabama and on international trips with her family, where she made friends with local kids and saw firsthand the effects of hunger.
The sense of injustice she felt when she saw children her age without enough food propelled her to work on hunger issues throughout college at Auburn University, then as a United Nations World Food Programme officer in The Gambia. Faced with escalating security concerns, including her own kidnapping, Isakoff left international service to address food insecurity in the U.S.
She now serves as executive director of A Simple Gesture, an organization in Greensboro that collects food donations from the community to feed students who otherwise might not eat on weekends and during the summer. Host Frank Stasio talks with Leslie Isakoff about her international career and her perspective on service.
On realizing the issue of hunger:
Growing up we traveled a lot. I got to go to a lot of different places that I got to meet other children who were hungry. And it was crazy to me that these kids were born to families that loved them and looked so much like mine and just didn't have the money to make ends meet at the end of the month or, very often, by the middle of the month. So I started to become really good friends with these kids, and we would do little things for the neighborhood where we would go and feed kids who didn't have food.
On a college program that addresses hunger:
I went to Auburn University, and the United Nations went to Auburn and asked them to implement a program that engaged university students in the World Food Programme. And the idea was to really engage the millennials to say: this is the very first generation that can end hunger long-term, which is really exciting. And it really doesn't matter what your passion is or what you're excited about, whether you're an engineering student or a teacher or a nurse. Everybody has a role to play. So we worked with students from across the campus to engage them in different ways to end hunger.
On hunger in Greensboro:
We have a very large proportion, especially of our children, that don't eat on a regular basis or are skipping meals. So it actually means, pretty similar to what I saw in Africa or Ecuador, that money sort of runs out at the end of the month, and families have a hard time buying food. Another big problem in Greensboro is there's a lot of what we call "food deserts." So people live too far away from grocery stores, so food just isn't accessible or affordable in Greensboro.