Monday, September 27, 2010

Feeding America Works to End Hunger

Feeding America’s mission is to “feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.” We’ve written about how the nationwide network operates. But what about “the fight to end hunger” in more systemic ways?

On Friday, September 24, we visited the Washington DC office of Feeding America. There we spoke with George Braley, Senior VP of Government Relations, and Lindsey Baker, Child Hunger Corps Coordinator.
George had a long career with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, administering programs including SNAP, WIC, and Child Nutrition. He came to Feeding America because CEO Vicki Escarra wanted to increase the ability of Feeding America to influence federal legislation and to better assist eligible people in obtaining federal food benefits. “We see a lot of people who would qualify, but who don’t receive the benefits to which they are entitled,” he said. Nationally, only about 2/3 of those eligible actually receive SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps). Reasons include
  • Difficult application processes
  • Long waiting times due to states being overburdened with applications
  • Limited trust by applicants in government workers or processes
  • Applicants unaware that they (or some household members) qualify for benefits
  • Sense that the benefit is too low to make the application process worth it
  • Unwillingness of some people, particularly seniors, to take what they see as “welfare”
  • Mistaken belief that if they take SNAP it will leave less for others
Food banks try to help qualified people receive SNAP benefits. But simple outreach is sometimes not appreciated by states whose resources to process applications are already strained. So some food banks (George mentioned Northern Nevada, Central Florida, and others) have offered to take over or assist states with the processing of applications for SNAP benefits. There are federal matching grants for states to use in improving their SNAP processes, and in some cases Feeding America has offered to provide the state match, just to help make the improvements actually happen.

Lindsey Baker told us about another area in which Feeding America food banks are increasing their efforts -- improving child nutrition. What do children from hungry households do for dinner, for weekends, for school vacations and summers, when they don’t have access to school lunch and school breakfast?

Feeding America's Child Hunger Corps is working on increasing the availability and nutritional content of food for kids after school hours. Through a partnership with ConAgra Foods, Child Hunger Corps members will work with specific food banks to identify gaps and either expand existing programs or establish new programs to fill those gaps. 

One example of a program that might benefit from expansion is the kids backpack program (giving hungry kids single servings of nutritious food to take home on the weekends). The child nutrition bill (if it passes) would provide some federal funding for backpack food, but currently food must be bought by private donors or through partnerships with corporations.

Finally, as we’ve found to be true of the other national organizations we’ve contacted, Feeding America increases its influence on governmental organizations by actively participating in coalitions with other hunger relief agencies (e.g., the Congressional Hunger Center).  Feeding America actively encourages its 1,000,000 volunteers and 80,000 Hunger Action Center members nationwide to convince friends, foundations, corporations, legislators, and government agencies to end the disgrace of hunger in America. YOU can be an advocate, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment