Sesame Street was brought to you today by the letter P (for poverty)

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Economic crisis comes to children's TV as show's makers introduce puppet who lives on breadline

Los Angeles

She's got pink hair, she's terribly cute and she's hungry. In a bid to reflect the harsh realities of recession-era America, the makers of the nation's favourite children's TV show have introduced a new puppet. Her name is Lily and her chief character trait is that she lives on the breadline.

The so-called "hungry Muppet" was introduced to viewers last night, on a special episode of the programme aimed at educating the public about the growing proportion of US families suffering from what sociologists term "food insecurity."

Lily began the programme showing Elmo around an urban food pantry, the modern-day equivalent of a soup kitchen. Her parents have been hit hard by the economic downturn, she explained, so they had recently begun using the facility to help fill their larder.

"One of the most important things for me was not feeling like I was alone," Lily said, regarding her experience visiting the pantry. It provides such an important service that she recently decided to work there as a volunteer.

"The more I got involved with my community and everything, the more I felt like, not only that I was helping other families," she told her fellow puppet. "I just felt (that it was) really important to give and reach out to people."

Lily's debut came on a special prime-time edition of Sesame Street called "Growing Hope Against Hunger." It was inspired by figures compiled by the US Department of Agriculture which estimated that 17 million American children, half of whom are under six years old, go hungry because their family is unable to afford sufficient food.

"In 2009, 15 percent of US households were identified as being food insecure, or defined as being with limited or uncertain availability to meet their basic needs due to a lack of financial resources," Melissa Dino, a producer of the show told Newsweek magazine "That's really, really staggering in our country."

Lily was designed to persuade young viewers to empathise with their less fortunate peers.

"The message we give for young children in the programme is to be a friend," added Dino. "We knew we wanted a character who was a child for children in the audience who had experienced this and would be reassured."

There are no plans for Lily to join the cast of Sesame Street full time, but she will endure on a special section of the show's website. Her appearance follows in a long tradition of characters on the programme attempting to educate young children about pressing social issues.

Thanks to the polarised state of US politics, there are few public gestures that don't provoke at least some controversy, however. And Lily has been criticised by right-leaning commentators who believe that she represents an effort to brainwash the nation's youth about the perils of unchecked capitalism.

"Why is Lily a class, a group?" asked Eric Bolling, a commentator for Fox News. "Do we single out the black Muppet? Or the Hispanic Muppet? Why do we need to single out the hungry Muppet?"

The Blaze, a blog that is very popular with American conservatives, was more succinct about the programme's new star. "Uh-oh," it announced. "It's time to redistribute the Cookie Monster's cookies!"

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