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acf-usa-logo-color.jpgAction Against Hunger's (ACF) Maureen Gallagher has a secret weapon, and it tastes like peanut butter.

For the past four years, the medical nutrition coordinator has been making sure that Plumpy'nut, a fortified nut and milk paste, gets into the right hands—those of starving children. To get there, she collaborates with local governments from Uganda to Nigeria and provides strategic support to keep ACF's treatment centers running and stocked with Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) like Plumpy'nut.

Unlike some jobs, her work is literally a matter of life or death. A child dies of hunger every six seconds—that's over 5 million every year. The real test of whether she's successful lies with the field workers who diagnose and treat patients in one of the charity's local treatment centers.

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A mother waits with her child at an outpatient nutrition center in South Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. [Photograph: actionagainsthunger.org]

Gallagher said that seeing RUTF in action was one of the most painful, and rewarding, parts of her job.

Mothers would carry their malnourished children by the arm-full, awaiting life-saving treatment. She recalled the procedure in a methodical, logical way: from there, the diminutive patients were subject to a battery of examinations. There was weight, then height, and the middle upper arm's circumference was measured for a diagnosis. Then there was something called an Appetite Test, where the most malnourished children were identified for inpatient care when they refused to eat the RUTF. Plumpy'nut can be eaten directly after a shelf life of months to years, avoiding the need for scarce clean water.

There's one aim in the end: "To save lives throughout treatment, detection and prevention of acute malnutrition," she said.

Action Against Hunger, abbreviated as ACF from its French name, was founded in 1979 by a group of French writers, doctors and writers seeking to eradicate world hunger. Today, there are five international headquarters serving 46 countries, a budget of nearly 200 million dollars, and most importantly, efforts that reach over 5 million worldwide. Ardent fundraising in developed countries like the U.S. supports the efforts of Gallagher and her colleagues and assures that therapeutic feeding centers stocked with Plumpy'nut.

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An ACF staff member measures a child's arm to determine whether he is malnourished. [Photograph: actionagainsthunger.org]

The massive amount of coordination needed to fund a global hunger initiative starts at the local level. Karen Dumonet, senior officer for events and donor relations in New York, has been organizing events and partnerships to fund the charity's many projects.

One of her recruits for fundraising initiative Restaurants Against Hunger has been Claude Godard, the tall, slender proprietor of New York City's Madison Bistro who volunteers his time at fundraisers.

Born into a French restaurant family, he remembers media coverage of the charity while growing up in his native Burgundy. He answers immediately when asked about how his line of work affected his choice of charity.

"Working in the business that I am, it always shocked me to see people without food, water, basic things to live on," he said while taking a break between lunch and dinner rush.

Used to satisfying his restaurant's customers with great food, he admits that there's added perk to donating catering.

"The most rewarding moment [of volunteering for ACF] is ... recognition by guests, not only for what they found on their plate, but because of what we did for the organization."

Donations like his go on to fund a variety of programs carried out by over 4,600 field staff aimed at providing a sustainable, community-based solution to hunger. In addition to the RUTFs provided by therapeutic feeding centers, ACF works on improving water and sanitation, food security, general health, and acts as an advocate to people denied access to food.

Supporters find creative ways to raise money for the organization. Jordan Dibb, a Minneapolis resident, aims to raise $100,000 for Haiti relief efforts by walking from Minneapolis to Miami. Tad Fry, a Cleveland runner, ran his first marathon for ACF and chronicles his journey on the charity's website. A New York-based supporter is Helene Semmel, a specialty food distributor who enjoys volunteering at charity dinners and other events.

"Sometimes you don't have money to give, but you have time," Semmel declared.

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