The theater at Channelside Cinemas was nearly full. Event organizers were urging a handful of photographers to stay in their seats.
“Where’s the Dude?” one long-haired attendee called out from a few rows back.
Within minutes, Jeff Bridges walked in. He's quite tall, and his goatee is much more substantial than the one he sported in The Big Lebowski back in 1998.
He wasn’t there to talk about whether aggression would stand or to split hairs over nihilism. He was in Tampa on a much more solemn note. He came here to introduce Hunger Hits Home, a documentary film he narrated that highlights the plight of millions of American children living in poverty — and quite literally, hunger.
“Good afternoon — is it afternoon?” Bridges said in pretty spot-on Dude form after Share our Strength founder Billy Shore introduced him. “Yeah, it is.”
Share our Strength is the nonprofit that’s spearheading the No Kid Hungry campaign, which, in addition to Bridges, has the support of the Food Network and the governors of Maryland and Virginia — a Democrat and a Republican, respectively. Not surprisingly, Bridges appears to be drawing the most attention to the issue.
The film follows several impoverished families struggling to keep their children fed. Some survive on ramen, either too proud to ask for government assistance or not quite able to qualify for food stamps.
“We’ve got 60 million kids who are struggling with hunger,” Bridges said. “It’s not a matter of having the resources. It’s the matter of making those resources more available to the kids who are in need.”
“A lot of our work is based on the idea of public and private partnerships,” Shore said. “We think that that’s something that both parties can agree on, and in fact, there’s incredible bipartisan support for the No Kid Hungry campaign all across the country.”
Shore acknowledged that food stamp programs are being cut. He said hunger is a symptom of poverty, and that poverty is a political problem. Still, he said, individuals who care can address the issue on a smaller scale.
“While solving the issue of hunger is complex, feeding a child is not,” he said.
In Florida, No Kid Hungry estimates that nearly 638,000 children experience hunger every day.
Rev. Rick Bennett of statewide nonprofit Florida Impact said despite the governor’s and legislature’s tendency to cut programs benefiting the poor, there has been some support from an elected official at the state level — Secretary of Agriculture Adam Putnam.
“For some reason, he has really taken to childhood hunger,” Bennett said.
Hunger Hits Home, which was brought to Channelside as part of the Impact Film Festival, will also air next week at the Democratic National Convention.