CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — For the first time since the 2020 pandemic, leaders with the Carolina Hunger Initiative joined together Wednesday in Chapel Hill for their annual NC Child Hunger Leaders Conference.

The event featured First Lady of North Carolina Kristin Cooper, and the National School Nutrition Director of the Year Robert Rolfe who works for Henderson County Schools.

Organizers say their goal is to make sure all kids have access for food and nutrition.

During this school year, access to free meals for all students that were put in place during the pandemic ended. The Carolina Hunger Initiative says due to those programs ending, major challenges continue to affect child nutrition programs. 

Right now, 1 in 6 children in North Carolina face hunger, according to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S.

“More than 60% of the children in public schools in North Carolina are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. That means that they’re coming from economically challenged situations and school meals will give them the tools to help them learn,” said Tamara Baker, communications director for the Carolina Hunger Initiative.

The Carolina Hunger Initiative says healthy access to food has been linked to better academic performance and better social-emotional outcomes.

This year’s theme of the conference is “Game On! Winning the Child Hunger Challenge,” inspired by classic TV game shows, according to the conference’s website.

Participants are being asked to “get ready to ‘come on down’ and test your knowledge, engage in some friendly competition, and remind yourself that a positive attitude is the best way to take on this serious work. By the end of the day, you will be ready to score a victory for the children in your community.”