New ‘Sesame Street’ Character Will Tackle Hunger Awareness

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Sesame Workshop

Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Big Bird are about to get a brand-new friend.

The beloved children’s show Sesame Street will introduce the character of Lily, a 7-year-old girl who is “food insecure,” which means that she doesn’t always know where her next meal is coming from.  Lily was created for an upcoming primetime special planned by Sesame Workshop about the problem of hunger in American families, entitled “Growing Hope Against Hunger.”  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 16 million children in the U.S. are “food insecure.”

(MORE: What It Means to Go Hungry)

The creators at Sesame Workshop aim to take on a difficult topic with a tone of hopefulness, as well as their patented mix of both levity and sensitivity.  Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice president for outreach and educational practices, told the New York Times that her team carefully considered how to represent a child dealing with hunger, and incorporated realistic details such as the young girl’s habit of looking at her feet when she speaks.

This television special is part of Sesame Street’s larger initiative, “Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget,” a program to support families with young children who are struggling to provide nutritious food.  “Growing Hope Against Hunger” is sponsored by Walmart as part of a $1.5 million grant towards the larger program, and will air Sunday, October 9 on PBS.

Sesame Street has a history of addressing social issues, beginning with Grover learning civil disobedience from a hippie in 1969.  Over the years, other new Muppets have been introduced as signs of the times, such as HIV-positive Kami or the proudly feminine Abby Cadabby.

For now, Lily is slated to appear for one night only.  But NewsFeed is sure that if she made a repeat appearance, Cookie Monster would generously share some of his stash.

MORE: Jim Henson: The TV Creator

Allison Berry is a contributor at TIME.  You can continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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