We took a journey.
Over the past year, Project Bread prepared for our next five-year strategic plan by traveling across the state and gathering information about hunger. We wanted to know if there were solutions that were so local, they couldn’t readily be seen, and we wanted to learn if the two big solutions, emergency food and SNAP (food stamps), were working well.
We cast the net wide. In groups and individually, we interviewed over 300 community leaders, parents, teenagers, seniors, free clinic patients, young single mothers, union members, retail grocery workers, antihunger leaders, pioneers from the emerging system of local and sustainable agriculture, and experts in health, economics, and public health.
We heard many personal stories of need but also stories of resilience and mutual help. We met families who were very skilled at coping and managing through hard times. They learned to find help among their friends, family, and community — and they were willing to give help when asked.
They ate dinner with friends, they joined a community garden, they made meals ahead and froze them, they looked for help at the local church pantry, they made sure their child enrolled in free breakfast and lunch at school, they clipped coupons and kept an eye out for bargains, they learned to cook “pot luck” style with friends.
The traditional approaches to hunger relief — emergency food programs and enrollment in SNAP and other federal nutrition programs — help many, but not all, hungry people. The key message we learned was that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to hunger. We also heard that how people are helped is as important as the help itself. People wanted to become active participants in securing healthy food.
We also heard that the best solutions have a triple bottom line — first, they provide help in the short term to alleviate hunger; second, they invest in and strengthen the community, and third, they provide solutions that are sustainable over the long term.
People wanted the food they feed their children to be local, fresh, healthy. They wanted to talk to us about expanding community gardens, healthy school food, farmers’ markets, urban agriculture, community suppers, food co-ops, and market-based solutions. They wanted a hand up not simply a hand out; they wanted to work for their food, and they wanted the solutions to be located in their own community.
Clearly the time has come to expand the framework of hunger relief beyond its current boundaries of food distribution. While we continue to protect emergency food programs for those in urgent need, we will also look to invest in the growing number of emerging programs that allow low-income people to help themselves.
At Project Bread, we have embarked on a bold new vision of hunger relief. The new vision is not separate from the food system we all partake in. It’s part of it. It teaches a man to fish. It fosters interdependence. It builds community resilience. It supports social capital. It involves local farmers. It empowers people. It feeds people well.
Please join us.