NA senior wins national 'No Kid Hungry' writing contest

| Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, 5:42 p.m.

When North Allegheny Senior High School senior Bret Serbin won first place in a national writing contest, she was grateful to receive a $500 scholarship, a $500 donation to a charity of her choice and $1,000 for her school.

But the real victory, she said, would be if her winning entry could persuade Congressman Keith Rothfus to defend government food programs from threatened budget cuts.

The 2013 Go Orange for No Kid Hungry Essay Contest — sponsored by the Sodexo Foundation and run by No Kid Hungry/We Are Teachers — instructed students to write a letter to a local or national leader to say why ending childhood hunger in America is important and ask for action.

Serbin's “Creative Writing II” teacher at North Allegheny, Janellen Lombardi, encouraged her to enter the contest.

“I knew Bret was the perfect candidate,” explained Lombardi, 40, of Whitehall. “She immediately came to mind because she demonstrates compassion for others and possesses a compelling style of writing. I knew her letter would help others to see her point of view.”

Serbin, 18, of Franklin Park, began researching childhood hunger. The more she learned, the more passionate she became about the issue, she said.

“I sat down and typed for three hours nonstop until I felt my letter had really made an impact,” she said.

In her two-page, 965-word letter, she wrote, “The global superpower that tops the international charts for its military, economy, and democracy simultaneously accounts for more than 16 million food insecure children. In a food insecure household, access to the nutrition necessary for a healthy lifestyle is inadequate and inconsistent. In other words, on any given night, 3.9 million American households may have no answer for the simple question, ‘What's for dinner?'”

Serbin documented the physiological, mental, emotional and behavioral effects of hunger on children.

She also explained that while the United States is chipping away at the problem with governmental programs — including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps; school breakfast programs; and summer feeding programs — this assistance must be farther reaching and better protected against funding cutbacks.

Serbin's submission was selected the winner from more than 1,600 entrants.

“We liked Bret's essay because she writes with confidence. She uses statistics and references moments in history to frame modern childhood hunger in America within a greater historical context. She writes with clarity and purpose,” said Sylvia Vidal, coordinator of grass-roots fundraising and youth engagement for No Kid Hungry, based in Washington, D.C.

Serbin learned she won the contest in October. On Nov. 2, Serbin received a response from Rothfus (R-Sewickley) in the mail.

“He basically thanked me for my interest and made the point that his primary goal is to make sure low-income assistance programs are effective, sustainable and available to those that need them most,” said Serbin, the daughter of Paige and Scott Serbin.

She was saddened, however, to learn that legislators had voted to cut SNAP benefits.

“We all agree that no child should go to bed hungry,” said Rothfus said in an e-mailed statement to the North Journal. “That is why it is so important that we reform the nutrition safety net to ensure that it is sustainable. The legislation that the House passed in September reforms SNAP and requires four million of the 48 million able-bodied adults without dependents receiving benefits to either obtain employment or enter job training.

“SNAP is an important social safety net but the best way to ensure that no child goes hungry is to grow our economy so that moms and dads can get back to work and provide for their families. I always appreciate hearing from young Western Pennsylvanians, and I am glad that Bret took the time to get in touch.”

Serbin is continuing her battle against childhood hunger.

She has designated her $500 donation prize to North Hills Community Outreach's food pantries, and she and Lombardi are busy brainstorming ideas for a school project to help fight childhood hunger using the $1,000 in prize money awarded to North Allegheny Senior High School.

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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