Former first lady Michelle Obama is launching a nonprofit campaign that aims to provide more than 1 million meals to food-insecure families in connection with the debut Tuesday of her children’s food show on Netflix.
The “Pass the Love w/ Waffles + Mochi” initiative, named after the new series ”Waffles + Mochi,” is a collaborative campaign by the nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America, its honorary chair Obama and Higher Ground Productions, the production company owned by the former first lady and her husband, former President Barack Obama.
The nonprofit says the campaign was inspired by the series, which tells the story of two puppet friends who “travel the world exploring the wonders of food and culture while learning how to cook with fresh ingredients.”
“And now, we want to take your family on even more adventures through our ‘Pass the Love’ campaign, with recipes and activities that will make you laugh, help you learn, and of course, fill you up with delicious food,” Obama said in a video announcing the initiative.
In addition to making donations, “Pass the Love” encourages children and families to participate in culinary-themed activities in exchange for badges on the interactive website. Challenges range from “A Spicy Mystery,” where children open a spice jar and try to guess the ingredient, to “Rehydration Transformation,” where kids pour water over day-old rice and describe the texture.
Walmart and Blue Apron have jumped in to support the initiative, which also aims to “leverage the show, its characters, and Mrs. Obama to meaningfully shift our food culture toward more affordable, fun, at-home meals for families of every income level,” according to the nonprofit.
PHA President and CEO Nancy Roman told The Associated Press that the two companies will contribute funds to the campaign and raise money for it among their customers. More than half the money is expected to come from the public, Roman says.
The food service organization Genuine Foods will source and assemble the campaign’s meal boxes, which will then be distributed by local nonprofits in various cities. Roman says they will begin to roll out the campaign in cities that have the highest child poverty rates as the funds are raised.
The rollout will start in May, Roman says, and continue throughout the year. Each city deployment is expected to take place over four weeks.
“We’re thinking of a pace of about two a month,” Roman said. But, she added, “It will depend in part on how the campaign is going.”
The U.S. has seen a significant rise in hunger during the virus outbreak. One estimate from the organization Feeding America says around 45 million Americans in 2020 may have experienced food insecurity — limited or uncertain access to adequate food — compared with 35 million in 2019.
The former first lady, who has long been a champion of healthy eating, said in the announcement last week that the idea is to “help make sure families all over the country can access fresh, nutritious food” amid the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We want to make sure that no matter where you live or how tight your budget, you can access good food for your family,” Obama added.
The former first lady appeared on the “TODAY” show on Tuesday to promote “Pass the Love,” where she told host Jenna Bush Hager “Waffles + Mochi” is her “favorite project” to date.
"This isn't just a kid show. It's a family show, and that's what drew me to it,” she said, later adding: “You have followed us and supported a lot of the work that we've done, and I love it all, but this project, it brings it all full circle because it brings me back to kids and nutrition.”
It’s true that Obama has long had an interest in food and nutritious eating, and more specifically its impact on children’s health. As first lady, Obama championed healthier school meals as part of the “Let’s Move” campaign, and also planted the first vegetable garden in the White House in more than 60 years.
The then- first lady appealed to elected officials, food makers, sellers, restaurant chains and others to try to make healthy food more accessible. She lobbied lawmakers to add more fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and limit fat, sugar and sodium in the federal school lunch program.
Mrs. Obama’s push to put the country on a health kick extended to exercise — and she made herself exhibit A.
To promote “Let’s Move,” the first lady often donned athletic wear and ran around with kids at sports clinics, some on the South Lawn. She twirled a hula hoop around her waist 142 times and kick-boxed in a video of the gym workout that helped tone the upper arms she showed off regularly, as in her official White House photo.
She did pushups with Ellen DeGeneres, raced in a potato sack against late-night TV’s Jimmy Fallon in the East Room and shimmied with a turnip in a brief video popular on social media — all to show that exercise can be fun.
“I’m pretty much willing to make a complete fool of myself to get our kids moving,” she once said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.