Anne Ayella

Many years ago, my senior research project as a biology major at St. Joseph’s University focused on the relationship between hunger and brain development in infants and young children.

Profoundly moved by the incredible connection, I was blessed to work for 37 years at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Nutritional Development Services with programs that serve children and those in need with healthy, nutritious food locally, as well as globally through my involvement with Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

It is not enough for children to simply have access to food: they need the right kind of food with sufficient vitamins, minerals and protein to properly grow and develop. If children do not eat well in the first 1,000 days of life, they may never live up to their potential.

(Related: Local advocates back bill for early childhood development)

To address this situation, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) works in over 100 countries to improve the outcomes of poor and vulnerable children and their families by improving their access to healthy foods.

Presently, CRS is working to have an even greater impact by coupling a healthy diet with early childhood development (ECD) interventions. New research has shown that incorporating ECD activities (such as helping caregivers to use mealtimes to bond with children) into U.S. government-funded food security and nutrition programs multiplies positive outcomes for children. Nutrition programs are more effective and impactful if they are combined with ECD.

Given the staggering need for assistance, you may be wondering, “What can I do to make a difference?”

One crucial step: Become familiar with the Global Child Thrive Act, an important piece of bipartisan legislation that is making its way through Congress.

The Global Child Thrive Act would integrate ECD and efforts to combat childhood malnutrition into existing relief efforts without requiring additional federal funding.

Be a voice for the voiceless, and encourage Senator Patrick Toomey to join the list of bi-partisan co-sponsors of this legislation — which is fiscally sound and good for national security, two of his top priorities.


Anne Ayella is the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) director for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.