MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. I want to thank Vicki for that kind and generous introduction. I'd also like to thank Julie and Betty Ann who have chaired this event and everyone who has made today's event so very special.
I'd also like to acknowledge my escort, the handsome and gentle -- (laughter) -- Colonel Michael Colburn, who is the director of the United States Marine Band. And I have to say, on behalf of my family, that the Marine Band has been just a tremendous resource for us. They have such great range. They can play everything from jazz to country, and they've made every event at the White House a special one. And I want to give them another round of applause. (Applause.)
It is truly an honor for me to be here with all of you today. This is a very special and important occasion. Over the last couple of months I've had a chance to meet many of you through the events we've had at the White House. We've had Wednesday night socials and we've had several luncheons that Jill Biden and I have hosted at the White House. And if I haven't met you yet, don't worry, your invitation is in the mail. We're going to get to everybody, and we're going to do it again and again and again.
We're going to be hosting these luncheons and socials every month because we really believe that this is the way you get to know one another -- not as agendas, not as parties, but you learn about one another as individuals. And in these settings, we can find common ground.
We have now been at the White House for 101 days. (Applause.) And as Vicki mentioned, I've been focusing on my personal priorities: family first, community and service.
And on the family track, just to let you know, because everyone always asks, that we've never been better. The girls are happy and healthy. They love their school. They're making friends. They're getting good grades. (Laughter.) They settled in on their typical week. I feel like I've never left Chicago. Soccer on Saturday -- yes, I'm on a soccer field all day -- (laughter) -- just like many of you. Slumber parties -- we had about seven girls over, screaming and yelling. (Laughter.) And we're shuttling kids back and forth to play dates, just like usual, although now my mom does a little more of the shuttling than I do. I'm glad to have her here.
And as we're speaking of the First Grandmother, Mom is also doing well. And many of you have been so important to her in reaching out. She has a very full social life, so much so that sometimes we have to plan our schedule around her schedule. (Laughter.)
And the newest addition to the Obama family -- (laughter) -- the most famous member of the family, Bo Obama -- (laughter) -- is also doing well. (Laughter.) I have to say, he is the best puppy in the whole wide world. I love him to death. He is so sweet. But he's still a puppy. And I was just telling Jane (ph) that I -- what I -- she said, what time did you get ready? I said I got up at 5:15 a.m. in the morning to walk my puppy. (Laughter.) That's how my day starts. Even though the kids are supposed to do a lot of the work, I'm still up at 5:15 a.m. taking my dog out. So for everyone who has a child asking for a puppy -- (laughter) -- you have to want the dog. (Laughter.) As I do. I love my Bo.
And as a result of everything going so well, I've been able to turn my attention to some of the other issues I care about: again, as Vicki said, supporting military families, work-life balance, healthy eating, planting that wonderful garden -- we had our first salad out of the garden; we're producing -- (laughter and applause) -- and one of my greatest passions, national and community service.
As a nation we're facing unprecedented challenges. I don't think that anyone here would doubt that. These are -- there are few times in our nation's history when the phrase "We're all in it together" really means something. And now is one of those times. We're all in this together.
But embedded in our nation's core values is a spirit of community, generosity and entrepreneurship. I saw all throughout this campaign in every corner of the country a can-do attitude that says that no challenge is too great for the people in this nation.
But service groups, and non-profits, faith-based organizations, philanthropists, corporations, government, individuals of all ages have had to play a role in moving this country forward. The question that we have to ask ourselves now as individuals is "What will I do? What am I willing to do in these times?" Because these times are tough.
About 62 million people or a little over a quarter of U.S. citizens volunteer each year to help improve their community in some way. And about $300 billion a year is donated to support the work of religious institutions, foundations and non-profits to further causes that make people healthier, that make neighborhoods safer, that make communities stronger.
Many of these beneficiaries have seen contributions dwindle this year and they're trying to do more with less as the needs of this country increase. Thirty-six million Americans, including 12 million children, are living on the brink of hunger in this nation.
Last month the USDA announced that the participation in the SNAP program, which was formerly known as Food Stamps, has reached the highest levels ever. Nearly 32 million Americans received SNAP benefits in December 2008. That's up 700,000 in that month, and almost 5 million more than the year before.
So food banks are experiencing an average increase in demand of more than 30 percent year after year. And that's why we chose, as one of our first joint service projects, to go to a food bank. And I want to thank all of you who so generously gave of your time yesterday to join me at the Capital Area Food Bank. Just so that you know and the whole group here knows what we did in those few hours, we packed 2,000 weekend food bags which will help ensure that 1,000 students who participate in the Capital Area Food Bank's "Food for Kids" program have enough to eat for the next two weeks. So we have to give ourselves a round of applause. (Applause.)
And I'm happy to report that similar activities like the ones we did yesterday are taking place around the country where people are stepping up in so many unique ways.
In Colorado, for example, the Colorado State University campus has planted a "Garden of Eatin'." They recently planted raspberries, strawberries, currants, and it will eventually produce everything from herbs and squash, to pumpkins, tomatoes and peppers. And much of that produce is going to be donated to a local food bank, which is seeing that 35 percent increase in demand.
And in Des Moines, Iowa there's a Hope Ministries organization. One day they woke up and realized that they had run out of eggs for the five kitchens that they operate. And while they knew they could run out and make the purchase, it was going to be very expensive. And out of the blue, "a miracle happened," which is how the director described it. They got a call from a woman who owns a chicken farm about an hour away saying that she would donate it 66 dozen eggs. And then the entire -- America's egg farmers industry stepped up, as well. Across the country they will be donating more than 11 million eggs to food banks just this year. (Applause.)
And our federal agencies are also responding. On Saturday, May 9th, the letter carriers from around the country will lead the charge in the nation's largest single-day food drive. They're asking everyone to leave perishable food donations in a bag next to your mailbox, and your postal carrier will pick them up when they deliver your mail. The effort is called "Stamp Out Hunger," and last year over 73 million pounds of food were donated to food banks through this effort.
These stories prove that participating in national and community service is not just an escape for the wealthy or for kids who can afford to serve; it's an integral part of empowering everyone to make our communities stronger.
And with the recent passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, a bipartisan effort, we are now poised to usher in a new era of service in this nation. The Serve America Act will allow more young people to help themselves pay for college by serving their communities, and will create more opportunities for older Americans to apply their years and decades of experience and wisdom to serve this country, as well.
AmeriCorps will expand under the act from 75,000 slots to 250,000 slots in less than a decade.
And we're going to focus this service towards solving today's most pressing challenges: clean energy and health care, education and economic opportunity, the needs of veterans and families throughout this country.
So we have a real moment in history to once again come together to help our neighbors, our communities and to help our country. And this is what I find so inspiring about this position, leading this nation as First Lady: People in this country assume responsibility, knowing that each of us has something to contribute and something special to add to leading the way.
And I hope that yesterday's event will be the first of many projects that we will all work on together. As the spouses of the leaders of this great country, we are each role models in our neighborhoods. People look up to us. And by demonstrating that each of us has a role to play in moving this country forward, we can have a real impact on how this country responds to these challenges.
And I know that each of us has a cause that we committed to. So many of us are passionate, and working hard outside of our homes, and dedicating hours. And I would like to find ways for us to support one another in our efforts, to think about ways that we can link arms within our states and our communities.
In order to do so, one of the things that I'm proposing and I'm presenting it to you all here now is that we develop a family service project based around the annual Congressional Picnic which will be held at the White House on June 25th. We can bring our husbands and our wives, our children and our grandchildren together as we did yesterday and rally around a common cause.
This would be a powerful message that we could send to people around the country; that they saw all of our families come together here in D.C. Whether it's a food bank or a homeless shelter, there's so much need out there. The projects are endless. Just imagine what message that would send if we came together.
So I'm asking you now: Put it on your calendar, bring your kids. We'll work a little, we'll have a little barbeque, we'll get a lot of stuff done. But I want to thank you all for all of the support that you've shown me, each and every one of you. I feel the prayers. I feel your encouragement. Again, whether you're a member of the Democratic Party or not, whether you're in politics or not, our family feels your encouragement. And we greatly appreciate every single kind word, every gesture that you've offered. And I look forward to working with you all in the months and years to come. Thank you so much. (Applause.)