Just as Jeff Bridges was getting into his tour of the Billings Family YMCA with Gov. Steve Bullock, a woman stopped him in the hallway and asked for a photo.
Bridges smiled and pulled her in and they took the photo. She expressed her gratitude and told him how much she enjoyed his work. As Bridges walked away, she paused, took a breath and asked one more question.
“What are you doing tonight?” she asked with a laugh.
Bridges stopped and turned, cracked a wry smile and waited a beat.
“You’ve gone too far,” he quipped, which got a hearty laugh out of the entourage of nearly 100 people — the governor’s staff, a documentary film crew, YMCA personnel and the press — following the actor on his tour.
Bridges was touring the YMCA to see its after-school snack program and raise awareness for the Share Our Strength charity that launched the No Kid Hungry “Breakfast After the Bell” initiative.
The initiative highlights and supports the creative ways that states are connecting kids to the meals they need. A number of Montana schools are participating in the program.
Bridges is the national spokesperson for Share Our Strength, and Billy Shore, who was also a part of the tour, is the organization’s founder and CEO.
The group, which included first lady Lisa Bullock, first visited Darby School, and then after lunch they arrived at Billings YMCA to highlight a new kids meal program there.
“We call it a supersnack,” said Tina Postel, the Billings YMCA CEO. “We don’t know what kind of food some of these kids go home to.”
So the snack, which includes high-nutrient foods like milk, cheese, fruits and vegetables, is designed to fill the kids up before sending them on their way at the end of the day.
The tour ended in a basement playroom where the tables had been arranged for snack time. Moments later, two dozen children filed in.
“Who’s hungry?” Postel called out.
All the kids shouted and raised their hands. Postel smiled.
“You have some very, very special guests today to serve you snacks,” she said.
Steve and Lisa Bullock, Bridges and Shore put on plastic gloves and began handing out the snacks as the kids walked through the line.
The Bullocks have made childhood hunger and food insecurity a top priority. In Montana, nearly 22 percent of children face food insecurity.
“We can’t expect kids to do well in school, in life, if they’re only thinking about their hungry bellies,” Bullock said.
Over the past two years, Montana’s No Kid Hungry program has tripled the number of after-school meal programs, resulting in 61,000 more meals. The program has also increased participation in summer meal programs, adding two programs and resulting in 50,000 additional meals being served.
“Our belief is that childhood hunger is a solvable problem,” Shore said.
One the first charities that Bridges, or El Duderino if you’re not into that whole brevity thing, became involved with was the End Hunger Network back in the early 1980s.
At that time, he and many others were busy trying to raise awareness about hunger all over the world when it dawned on him, he said, that many children here in the United States were going hungry as well.
He’s been involved with fighting childhood hunger here at home ever since.
Smiling affably and openly praising Bullock’s and Shore’s work to fight childhood hunger, Bridges talked about visiting schools through the charity and seeing firsthand the students who need this help.
“I’ve lived in Montana for 30 years now,” Bridges said.
“I consider it my home. And I want to see the kids in my home state get fed.”