Clear Goals & Clear Roles Needed to End Hunger Now
I’m in DC this week talking about food policy and what it takes to end hunger with hundreds of our nations leaders in this area. I am looking forward to learning about new data and best practices, speaking with elected officials about the impact of sequestration and deficit reductions, and sharing information about the work we are doing to create a Hunger Free King County.
We kicked off with the third annual Hunger Free Communities Conference. It started with some good news…..the new film A Place at the Table, perfectly timed with the start of sequestration, is raising awareness like nothing else has in my generation. Health Care Reform promises to help stabilize millions of low income families, and the rate of food insecurity has leveled despite the Great Recession – do in great part to advocates maintaining a strong SNAP program. Additionally, promises from the Obama Administration about immigration reform and minimum wage hikes have advocates like me hopeful that we will eventually have new tools in our fight against hunger.
Positives aside, the numbers are alarming. 50 million Americans, including 1 in 4 kids, are at risk of hunger. 53 percent of babies born in the US rely on the WIC program. It doesn’t take 800 anti-hunger advocates and thought leaders to tell you why……it’s about education, jobs, income inequality, and poverty. This national travesty will not be solved until we the people stand up, step out and stop retreating. The challenge ahead is how we organize our work, leverage resources, and build our movement to feed hungry families today while aggressively advocating for the policies needed to tackle these HUGE social and economic issues.
The beauty of the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference is that it brings together front line emergency responders, funders, and policy experts. It can be overwhelming to think about how to meet increased demand, solve these long term policy issues, and keep your doors open. The conference provides a venue for dynamic conversations, resource sharing and healthy debate about how we increase our impact.
And greater impact is what it is all about. While we know that it will take policy reform to change the trajectory for many who are born or fall into poverty…..we do have federally funded nutrition supports in place that could help feed more hungry people today. Increasing utilization of SNAP, Summer Meals, School Breakfast etc. would have major impact and would reduce the number of people – especially children – who are hungry. I worry that at times our sector gets overwhelmed by the bigger problem and loses focus on what is possible and really needed today. Don’t get me wrong, we are making progress on utilization of these resources. National leaders ranging from Food Research & Action Center and Share Our Strength to the Walmart Foundation and USDA FNS have invested time and resources to expand participation. But greater cooperation from state and local partners, more targeted outreach and more aggressive program offerings are needed to achieve greater impact.
When I head back to the other Washington later this week, my colleagues and community partners will ask (at least I hope they do) - how are we going to move the needle on hunger? My answer – move from collaboration to Collective Impact. It’s nice to share resources, have soft/informal partnerships, and to have lot’s and lot’s of joint meetings. But nice doesn’t end hunger. Service duplication doesn’t end hunger. Programs w/o good outcomes don’t end hunger. Neither do high impact programs with funding gaps. If we are going to end hunger we need clear goals, clear roles, and aligned investments to scale what works. SNAP works. School Meals work. Advocacy works. The opportunity in front of us is to put the puzzle pieces together (data, funding, volunteers, legislation, infrastructure, programs etc.) in a more cohesive and aligned way. I’m confident we can end hunger and make sure everyone has “A Place at the Table”.