A friend of mine sent me a link to a story that surprised me. Apparently Sesame Street will be debuting a new Muppet character, named Lily, who is food-insecure (which is the government’s word for “hungry”). This makes me simultaneously sad and happy. Sad because the number of hungry children in the country is so great that it necessitates a TV character to represent it. Happy because children who are not hungry will learn about those that are, in a gentle and powerful way.

Hunger is a huge and basic issue for so many families in America. 49 million Americans live in food-insecure houses, which includes 16 million children. And evidently, food pantries are struggling to feed people, both because the number of hungry people is increasing, and because their budgets are being cut. Hunger is a problem in big cities, and it’s also a problem in the suburbs.

But primarily, hunger is a problem of poverty. Forty percent of families below the poverty line are food insecure. Children who are hungry are more likely to do poorly in school, have developmental problems, and suffer from illness and depression, conditions which presumably increase the likelihood that they will stay poor. With one in six people hungry in the U.S., this might just be the biggest problem that many (including myself) haven’t been paying attention to.

To learn how many people are suffering from hunger in your state, click on this map and hover over your state. And click here for ideas on how to help.