The new character of Lily was designed to confront a growing national struggle -- food insecurity.

Story highlights

Lily is a pink muppet with long pigtails, resembling a 7-year-old girl

Sesame Street portrays Lily and her family dealing with food insecurity

Nationwide, more families visited food pantries during the recession, USDA says

CNN  — 

Move over, Cookie Monster. And pipe down, Oscar the Grouch.

There’s a new muppet in town, and she’s hungry.

Her name is Lily, and the newest member of the muppet pantheon symbolizes a serious social condition in today’s recessionary era: nationwide hunger.

Colored pink and sporting long pigtails, Lily has been designed by Sesame Street to look like a 7-year-old girl.

Her character confronts a growing national struggle – food insecurity. Her story offers an optimistic scenario of how the community at large is supporting her and her family.

Sesame Street and the Jim Henson Co. are introducing this new muppet in an hour-long special, “Growing Hope Against Hunger,” Sunday on PBS.

In the special, Lily is prompted to make a revelation when one of the more popular muppets – Elmo – remarks that he “didn’t know there were so many people who didn’t have the food they needed.”

Lily then confesses to him that she doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from and that times can be difficult.

Food insecurity is defined as the lack of a consistent access to food for active, healthy lives, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA says 14.5% of households were food insecure at least some time during 2010 and that 5.4% of households experienced very low food security the same year.

“Numerous studies suggest that children in food-insecure households have higher risks of health and development problem than children in otherwise similar food-secure households,” the USDA says.

The Great Recession, which set off a wave of layoffs and plummeting home values, left many families without access to adequate food.

Since 2001, the number of households receiving emergency food has grown steadily, according to the USDA. The most significant increase took place between 2007 and 2009 – during the recession – when the number of households making use of food pantries rose from 3.9 million to 5.6 million, an increase of 44%, according to the USDA.

Sesame Street really wanted to convey the scope of the problem, a spokeswoman said.

Many children whose families suffer food insecurity are part of the program’s target audience, said Rocio Galarza, senior director for content and outreach at the Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street.

“We made very specific choices for this characters so it conveyed the message that anyone could be going through this,” Galarza said. “It could be your neighbor, could be part of your family sometimes. The character is going through this with her family but is benefiting from the support of her entire community.”

This isn’t the first Sesame Street muppet with a social message: The show has previously featured Jesse, whose father passed away, as a character dealing with the issue of grief. Sesame Street in South Africa also has an HIV-positive muppet named Tammy.