Addressing food insecurity for those suffering the most from income inequality – SNAP

Just Economy Conference – May 10, 2021


The pandemic’s impact on employment fell most significantly on business sectors with a disproportionately larger share of low-wage employees. These workers came into the pandemic with fewer resources, and when millions lost work, the scope of hunger skyrocketed across the country. Feeding America estimates that the number of people visiting food banks increased 55% since March 2020. Forty-two million Americans face the prospect of not having enough food. Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal government’s primary means to address hunger in the U.S., increased by 5 million households last year. The good news is that the American Rescue Plan Act will increase the maximum SNAP benefit by 15% through September 30, 2021, but the bad news is that the average monthly per-person benefit is still only $161. In this session, you will hear perspectives from the leaders of regional food bank programs and other policy leaders who pursue anti-hunger agendas in state and federal legislatures. The new administration has already demonstrated that it wants to take dramatic steps to reduce hunger in America. Attend this panel to hear first-hand reports on how reforms to SNAP could lead to long-term successes in efforts to reduce hunger in our communities.


  • Valerie Nicholson-Watson, President & CEO, Harvesters – The Community Food Network
  • Adam Rust, Senior Policy Advisor, NCRC
  • Beverly Wheeler, EdD, Director, D. C. Hunger Solutions
  • Matt Habash, President & CEO, Mid Ohio Food Collective


NCRC video transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. They are lightly edited for style and clarity.

Rust 0:22

So welcome and good afternoon. My name is Adam Rust, and I’m a senior policy advisor in NCRC. And I’m here to welcome you today to a panel that I think you’ll find to be very fascinating. Addressing food insecurity for those suffering most from income inequality. Today, you will hear from CEOs of three regional food banks. In the last year, their institutions have been asked to respond to historically significant levels of need. In fact, the Feeding America network, which is a coalition of food banks across the country, has now reported that in 2020, their members served 6.1 billion meals, an increase of 44%. From the prior year, in 2020 45 million Americans, including 15 million children, were designated as being food insecure, meaning that in the last period of time, those individuals lives in households that are not able to afford to provide enough food for healthy and active lifestyle for their members. Now, an important piece of context to that statistic, that I think many of you are familiar with is that hunger itself doesn’t exist in a silo, hunger is a part of an overlapping series of issues, right? So when we see people who are hungry, it’s rarely that’s only the case. It’s other things as well, a lack of affordable housing, educational equities, chronic health problems, high medical costs, and then most fundamentally low wages. And the fact that so many members of our coalition are at the point of change underscores why this issue is so important to NCRC. And we’ve heard from you, including in our recent community benefits, agreements, conversations with banks, that you are very concerned about addressing hunger in your communities. So you know that as an organization NCRC, his fundamental goal is to work to achieve adjust economy. And yet the presence of such widespread hunger is itself a foundational challenge to the idea that we do live in such a society having enough to eat as a precondition for all kinds of basic fundamental securities. So I want you to know, I want to emphasize this point that our founder, John Taylor is applying his passion to this work that he cares about deeply. And it’s something that he feels strongly that will be it will be a part of NCRC his work for years to come in the future. relatedly he should know that addressing hunger is the kind of work that if done in partnership with a local bank, will meet the meet the requirements for CRA credit. So there are a lot of opportunities here for you, for your groups. And of course, the pandemic, as we know, has added a lot of urgency, you’re going to hear about the central role played by snap Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in their work. More than 40 million people receive SNAP benefits. But even after the legislation passed during the pandemic to address the sudden and intense levels of insecurity, the average monthly benefit per person is still only $150 per month. Now, we could call it the 4555 recovery. In the last year the stock market is up 45% and many upper upper income Americans never lost their jobs because they were able to work remotely. On the other hand, visits to food banks are up 55% and people who came into 2000 and 20 in a low wage position, are far more likely to exit the workforce, at least at some point or temporarily. In the last year. Four in 10, persons who entered a food bank who used a food bank, do so for the first time last year, we have many newly hungry people now. So I’m here to lay the groundwork for a conversation that I think you’ll find to be very fascinating and illuminating. I’ve included some statistics, but the conversation that you’re going to hear from our panelists will be fundamentally about strategy. They’re asking where we should go next. In the last period of time, last few months, I’ve had a chance to work with them regularly. And they’ve taught me something which I think is really essential, which is that their goal isn’t so much to provide more food, although, of course, that is what they do. They’re serving meals in their states this morning, this afternoon, this evening.

But they want to do more than that. And in fact, I think they would prefer to operate themselves out of business, because what they want to do is address the root causes of hunger. And they want to engage your organization in those efforts. So with that, I’m going to introduce our speakers. First, we have Matt Habash is the CEO of the Mid Ohio food collective. He leads an organization that partners with grocers, food companies, farmers, USDA, and many community-based organizations to distribute food to hundreds of locations across eastern and central Ohio. Beverly Wheeler is the director of DC hunger solutions. She’s an adjunct faculty member at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz School of Public Policy, and she’s a fellow at the food research Action Council. in DC she leads efforts to improve public policy to end hunger to reduce poverty, encroach promote nutrition and access to healthy and affordable food and low-income areas. Finally, Valerie Nicholson-Watson is the CEO and the president of harvesters, a regional Feeding America food bank that provides food and household products for 760 nonprofit food pantries, homeless shelters, children’s homes and community kitchens and 26 counties in Missouri and in Kansas. And with that, I want to kick it off to Matt.

Habash 07:34

Thanks, Adam. One of the challenges when you do a presentation like this is, you know, we want to get into a conversation together and to share information together. But we have about 10 minutes to do a presentation and I got about probably 37 years of history to combine into that, that’s 10 minutes. But this for us has really been a shift over the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of being the CEO here for 37 years. And I’ve watched an organization grow or as I say, fail to fail miserably at my life’s goal, which was to go out of business as we’ve gone from a food bank that distributed 3 million pounds of food my started in 84, and a year to over 85 million pounds of food going the wrong direction fast in this country about food banks, food banks really begin to step into work differently. And I think a number of us are really looking at, you know, what, how we feed people today, but also about what that looks like to really address the root causes. No, our mission statement says on hunger, one nourishing meal at a time while co-creating a community where everyone thrives. Frankly, I think the Oregon food bank says it better its end hunger and its root causes. So we see that as a yes. And strategy. I think for many, many, many years, it was either you were in the direct service side of the work, or you were in the social policy change side of the work. And we’ve come to realize that you know, ending hunger means both. And we’re stepping in to use the cloud of the food bank and your community to really say, folks, we can’t just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger. As food banks, we’ve got to step into this work differently. Unfortunately, this past year, made that really hard. You know, this is probably the most challenging year I’ve ever had in terms of just to give you a sense of the scale. We went from serving about 525,000 individuals a year to 660,000 individuals a year. We have 67,000 families in the last 13 months that have asked for help. For the first time ever. We have a data tracking system. We’ve been tracking clients data for 10 years. It’s the first time you’ve ever had to ask for help. I had to be really, really hard. You know, it was over 200,000 families got help last year from us, and 1.3 6 million visits to one of our 680 fabulous partners to get food. That is not the way we’re going to end hunger. And you know, that was what we had to do for a pandemic. But we really believe we can do both. You know when we think about what this really means.

I’m really excited about the fact that you will talk about ending hunger and its root causes, when we talk about taking a customer-centric approach, that’s our core values to be client-centric. We now use the term customer, we want you coming back because 65% of food, I give out fresh food and energy coming more often. I know from diabetes research that we did it back in 2012 to 15 with Bristol Myers Squibb, that if we could get you to come in twice a month, we could lower you’re a one season diabetes, diabetes, we could work on hypertension, we know we could work on weight loss types of issues, healthcare issues, by making people who don’t have regular access, because their food insecure to good fresh food, when they could get it, we can see those kind of health improvements. It’s the number one reason in our community why somebody asked for help. So, we really have built a food as health strategy that was the first step into the space was to really say, how do we transform and to recognize that if we can take surplus fresh food and make that readily available, we can make a huge difference. Second, how to, you know, when we look at how we can do things differently, we stepped into SNAP in a big way and really begin to say, we can connect people to a lot more meals by getting making sure that they’re eligible for SNAP, we get them signed up for snap. So we fought really hard. But we’ve also taken a different task with SNAP, we’re now pitching snap, and we pitched it to our Senator Sherrod Brown several years ago, to say, look at SNAP not as an entitlement program we love to hate in this country. But as a good public health policy takes on a whole different meaning when you step into that space. So and couple that with the fact that seven years ago, we went to $15 an hour in an organization, and then spent a couple years teaching other nonprofits how to do that, that they could afford to do that, and what that really meant, and then challenging the corporate corporations in our community. And I’m happy to say that Nationwide Insurance and Huntington bank and Chase, which is a big employer in our community, you know, those kind of corporate leaders and institutional leaders, like a highest state all followed suit, and you started to see wages come up. As I say, if you want to move somebody out of poverty, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is that their income went up, slashed their household size. So, we really have got to, you know, we have all these other building blocks, we’ve really got to come together, but also realize that, you know, how do we use food as an asset differently? And that’s a big shift in our thinking versus we just did it’s a wholesaler supplying 680 retail outlets, and they worry about the hungry person to say, No, we’re going to pay attention to all of that. And we’re going to really look at what does a customer need? When do they need it? We call it right place, right time, right food strategy, think of those three circles of in diagram, that sweet spot in the middle. And then what wraparound services can we say that are needed in each community and partner with others so that we can have really good case management, we can have workforce development opportunities, we can address healthcare, we can address, you know, education, early childhood education, all the way up to post High School and starting to partner together with partners to say, we’re going to move people out of poverty, if we collectively come together, look at the whole person. And that’s really what has to matter. So a couple years ago, we changed our name from Mid-Ohio Food Bank, to Mid-Ohio food collective. And it really was around the concept that we’re recognizing we had other assets, food banks, the one we’re best known for, it’s the biggest thing of what we do. But we also have out of that Diabetes Research came in Ohio pharmacy, spelled FA RM AC why, really about getting doctors in low income clinics to write food scripts to get produce. And then as they came to get it, we could track that visit data back to the healthcare provider. And we were seeing improvements in a onesie, particularly in diabetes. So for us, it became we can make surplus food in this country, a health care strategy, and live into that space, strengthening our partnerships with primary one, health facilities, which is a federally qualified health center, with managed care organizations that were managing diabetes, even with Medicaid, talking about diabetes, again, go back and look at snap as a really strong way to connect those, you know, in a way for people to get regular access to food, we also could reduce their stress. We learned that from the research that we did, because people knew where their next meal was coming from. And we could make that go away. So, we’re taking a holistic approach. One of our other assets is called Mid-Ohio markets. We’re beginning to shift the language of food pantries, which is a very very stigmatized way of looking at how somebody gets help. It is hard to walk into a food pantry can imagine what those 67,000 families had to do in the past year. It is hard. And what we’re saying you know, we want to have a very welcoming grocery store experience a lot of fresh food, come back more often take what you can use that week, no, you can come back and the facilities open 3040 hours a week, not two hours here, three hours there the way some of our pantries have to operate. So we’re really shifting that with the idea and we’re going to D stigmatize them because we’re calling them markets, not food pantries, and they’ll look like grocery stores. We have two of them open. They’ve been wildly successful ones on Columbus State’s campus here in Columbus. You know Which is population, about 40,000 students going to school, they’re one of them in our suburbs. You know, we went from 450 families a month, when it was called a pantry to 1200 a week really seeing, you know, an increase in the number of people coming. And then we can wrap around the services that are needed that they may need, whether it’s workforce development, or connecting them to help this case, getting the COVID shot and all the connections around that. Little how kitchens and other assets. And it really was around taking a look at fresh food, and how could we prepare some of that food? None of us go home every night, every day and chop up vegetables and make a meal from scratch. Now why do you think a person that is below 200% of poverty, and that’s our numbers are going to do that? You know, so let’s prepare some of that food the same way we shopped the perimeter of a grocery store, take some of this food, cook it get it ready so that students that are going to Columbus State and trying to raise a family can grab that ready to eat meal, take it home have a good healthy meal. So how do we make an essence the convenient choice A healthy one. So, we’re stepping into that space as well. And we have a mental health farm. And it’s really around high tech, urban farming. So think drones think all kinds of computerization vertical towers growing, growing inside of containers, you know teaching people how to grow in their backyard, how to grow in a tower on asphalt, really Connecting Kids to foods, you know where it comes from? And it really is around how do we build those things together. And to me, that’s what this is all about. So, it’s a whole different way for us to really step into this space, in a collective way. And to really look at the root causes. So, we spend a lot of time talking to our partners, how do we stabilize families? What does that take? To me, you have to have a place to live first, when all said and done. That’s primary. But if I told everyone about this, listening to this, that you had to spend 70% of your budget, on your mortgage or rent, your budget would change drastically. But that’s the reality for many of the people that we’re helping. So, we’ve really got to work, you know, starts fundamentally with wages. For us, it looks at the housing issue. Now, it really looks at that what are the health care options that you have? You know, and making sure that you get access to it, you get fundamental access to good food. And we think snap has been a partnership that we couldn’t do without at the end of the day snap EBT which basically means emergency, you know, that was what happened this past year, keeping those benefits going. That’s what this is all about. You know, those are the fundamental issues that I believe we should collectively work on. So, I’m excited about this. You know, Adam said it well, in the conversations we were having, you know, My dream is to go out of business as a food bank, we can but yet we could still bring in fresh food and make it readily available. And you look at it as a healthcare solution farmer makes a little more money. And at the same time, we are able to get that fresh food where it’s needed. So, there’s options for this to think differently. Think holistically, think very person centric, whole person. And that’s really what we’re all about. So that’s my 10 minutes on where we are today. We’re excited about the opportunity, looking forward to the rest of the conversation. Thank you all back to you.

Rust, 16:55

Thanks, man, that was great. I was thinking about wrapping up all the things you said. And you basically said them all at the end again, which is that you’ve really got a data driven approach. You know, you’re using research. I love how you’re thinking about a consumer centric model your food pantries aren’t food pantries, they’re just like grep grocery stores. They’re open. All those things that consumers deserve, and and the linkage to health. And I would tell people that if you go on your website, you will see that there is a pharmacy f AR m AC why a pharmacy. So I think I think you’ve made great points and I want to switch over to Beverly. Thanks, man.

Wheeler, 17:35

Hi, thank you, Adam. Thank you, Matt, and welcome. As Adam told you, my name is Beverly Wheeler and I’m the director of DC hunger solutions. We are an advocacy and policy group initiative of the food action and Research Center. So while we don’t actually touch food, we make sure that our partners can, our tagline is actually ending hunger in the nation’s capital. People do not understand how much serious poverty and hunger exists in the nation’s capital. And we do it in three different ways. The first way we do it is to look at federal nutrition programs, we make sure that the city is doing its highest and best use of all the federal nutrition programs. Snap is the one we’re talking about today. But we don’t want to forget them. Women, Infants and Children program are all the child nutrition programs which include breakfast, lunch, after school summer meals. We have a lot of senior programs in the District of Columbia. We are number one in SR hunger, that is ridiculous. There is no excuse for them. When we, the pandemic pointed out things that we already knew, which were we have a large population of individuals who were food insecure, who worked in a central positions, who worked in the restaurant industry. And they were going to lose their jobs because they also didn’t have a lot of health care, and they became hungry. Our food insecurity rate last year was 10.6%, which was too high. But it is now 21%. That’s even worse, we’ve got to figure out how we can in fact, help our individuals. So let me talk, I talked about the highest and best use of all the federal nutrition programs. And we do that by taking a close look at the laws, regulations, policies that affect the District of Columbia, inside and what we can change, and we’ve had an opportunity to take a look, when they are good, then we help support them and make them better, when we’re bad when they’re bad, around hunger issues, we try to get rid of them. And when the government is silent, we will write legislation. And we are fortunate enough to have a lot of partners that help us. As I said, we don’t actually touch food, my job is to end your hunger, not to keep you from being immediately hungry. So if you’re immediately hungry, I will actually ask you and help you get in contact with one of our partners at the food bank, as Matt mentioned, so we have the Capital Area Food Bank. If you need medically tailored food, then we’re going to make sure we get you in contact with our friends at foodie friends who do medically tailored if you’re homeless, or you need a program that helps you get out of poverty, using food and a job, then we’re gonna send to the DC Central Kitchen. If you’re a family and you need some help, we’re going to send you to Martha’s table or any of the other organizations that actually do that. But we want to make sure that the city is using all the federal nutrition programs so that they can have dollars local dollars in order to assist other people and other programs. We know that when you not worried about where you’re getting your next meal, or where your child is getting their next meal, that you can then use your resources, resources, to find housing, to get a job, to improve your education, to relieve your stress levels. We want to do all of those things that lifts you out of poverty. And then we can know that everyone is going to be healthy. So we’ve done a couple pieces of legislation that we found very interesting. We did the Healthy Schools Act, which ensured that all children get breakfast. That’s a critical piece. For everything, it was so incredibly wonderful that we did the healthy tots app, we want to make sure that the babies also get food. One of the things you’ll notice about that you may or may not know about snap is that it is insufficient. It usually is used up by the third week of the month. And the federal minimum or snap is $15. So we found when we went out and talked to many people, particularly our seniors, it wasn’t worth it to them to try to get on snap for $15. So we proposed and help pass legislation we call the snap expansion act in the District of Columbia, the minimum you will get or snap is $30. Because we found out that for our particularly for our seniors, that that made the difference between food and medicine. And that extra $15 is made up in local dollars. That’s how dedicated we are to this. And we’re also very grateful that during the pandemic, that the federal government raised the snap allocations and that they’re in place until 2021. We believe that that needs to be longer, and we also believe that it needs to the foundations for SNAP need to change. A lot of people don’t realize that snap is based on what we call the thrifty booth. When that’s how they decide what should be in a snap package, and what that ought to look like. What people don’t understand is that the snap, the thrifty food plan was developed in the 1930s, during the Depression, to keep people from starving to death, it’s a very different world now. And that is still not enough, we would love to see the government go to the low food plan that would at least give people about another $30 a month, and allow them to get more fresh fruits and vegetables. So speaking of fresh fruits and vegetables, one of the things we do at DC hunger solutions is really to take a close look at a healthy food access. We believe that having access to healthy affordable food is a basic human right, and it ought to happen. We agree with Matt, where healthy food and access to fruits and vegetables really is medicine. We know that in the areas of Washington, DC that do not have grocery stores or at minimal grocery stores. And in fact, there are a lot of diet related illnesses that are actually shortening people’s lifespans. And COVID pointed this out more than anything else, it was really devastating for us. Until we take a look at some of those things. We also do direct service and snap is one of our direct services. And we work very hard to get people on snap. We work with the Department of Human Services and outreach. We also as part of our outreach, we train other organization service organizations on how to get people on snap, we try to make sure that we’re also talking to individuals about WIC, that we want to make sure that everyone gets a part of this, and that we look at policy and that we work together with everyone because we know hunger is a solvable issue. We just need to make sure that we’re working together to have it done. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you.

Rust, 26:11

Thanks, Beverly, I actually want to emphasize something that she only mentioned slightly, but it’s so significant. She talked about how people tend to run out of their food or SNAP benefits, but before the end of the month, in fact, 90% of SNAP recipients are out of food by the last week of the month, and caloric intake goes down 15% and hospital admissions go up. Right so the lack of enough food which is rooted in the thrifty food plans allotment is something that’s a fundamentally important policy priority. So just wanted to capture that from what Beverly said it’s very important. And now over to Valerie.

Nicholson-Watson, 28:00

Thank you, Adam. As Adam shared, I’m Valerie Nicholson-Watson, President and CEO of harvesters, the Community Food Network. We are a Feeding America Food Bank. We serve 16 counties in North East Kansas and 10 counties in northeast Missouri. And as we as part of this world continue to live through a pandemic that has just absolutely impacted individual lives and our global economy. We don’t know when the pandemic will end, or what the world will look like when we emerge from this global public health crisis. We do know, however, that its impact will be felt for years. And as we’ve already seen, its impact will be felt most deeply by those with the fewest resources. So before the pandemic, our nation experienced years of declining food insecurity. However, more than 35 million people remained food insecure. So that says we have a continuing problem with food insecurity, with the onset of the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic food insecurity and 2020 increase to 45 million people with that increased fuel but people who lost jobs and wages and we saw that many people did not have a reserve that would allow them to sustain themselves financially during the loss of wages. You know, last August, the Washington Post reported that through recessions almost always hit lower wage workers the hardest. The pandemic is causing especially large gaps between rich and poor in between black, white and other minority households. Some economists have started to call this a case shaped recovery. Because the diverging prospects for the rich and the poor, clearly, we saw this after the 2008 recession. So when we talk about those who needed help, before the pandemic, we see that during the pandemic, they needed additional health. But our member agencies reported that they were seeing a 30 to 40% increase in the number of people who were coming to the pantries. And primarily that was fueled by people who had never needed food aid before. And so really, not only the depth of the need for food assistance increased, but the breadth of the need for food assistance increased. And that sends a loud message that we need to be doing something different. Clearly, if you’re hungry, you need food assistance. But the bigger picture is, what is the impact of food insecurity? And again, what are the root causes of food insecurity? And no, earlier in the conversation, Matt mentioned, the Oregon Food Bank and its mission. And I think that there are many food banks across the Feeding America network that are doing some really innovative things to address the root causes of hunger here at harvesters, our mission is to feed hungry people today and work to end hunger tomorrow. And one of the things that we are in the process of doing right now is really defining what does working to end hunger tomorrow mean for food, right? You know, we made a commitment A few years ago, that what we distributed in terms of food is just as important as how much we distribute. And that was really our foray into food, as help understanding that we needed to provide the healthiest food available to the people that we serve. Because we know that nutrition is so important to maintaining a healthy diet, and also in the maintenance of many chronic illnesses. So that was our first foray into going beyond just providing food. And I don’t want to be little that because if you are someone who is food insecure, being able to access this nationwide network is so important to you and your family. But as most things mature, you understand you have a greater understanding of the problem that you are working to address, and you begin to pivot into some solutions that are far reaching. So for us, our first attempt was to begin to work with our medical providers. And you know, it struck me so much when the pandemic first hit, and test were difficult to receive. One of the first messages that was put out was if you need a test, you need to contact your primary caregiver. How many Americans don’t have a primary caregiver. That could be the difference between life and death because we know that when you have primary caregiver, you are getting more preventative care, and you are more likely to be seen by a specialist if that’s what you need to do. So we started at a very simple, very simple and basic level, we said that we and the medical providers in our service area really see a lot of the same people. But for us, it’s the food insecure, who often cannot maintain or manage their chronic health issues. When as Finch has been shared food stamp resources might run out before the month is over. Years ago, there was a Feeding America study that shared what people do when their food resources run out. They may eat expired food, they may forego meals, we know this is not good. And so what we begin doing is working with our medical providers so they They could ensure that the people they were serving, if they were food insecure, were able to secure resources that would provide a healthy diet for them. So we we’ve done all kinds of things depending on who the provider is. One of the things I guess I’m most proud of is another diabetes study in which we are providing food boxes of nutritious, low sell low fat foods for for the people who visited that particular clinic. And so what we’re doing really reaches a lot of people across our service area. I think it’s that’s very important.

But we are so struggling to be honest with defining what ending hunger tomorrow means for us as an organization. The things that we do know is that as food banks, and particularly us as a food bank, we work with over 760 different agencies. And while those agencies provide food assistance, so many do so many other things that do address the root causes of poverty. And so as a convener, it makes sense for us to convene the members of our network to know exactly what they are providing in to work so that we are collaborating more. So that’s one of the strategies that we’re working on. You know, when I think back over the last year, look back at 2019, and harvesters distributed 54 million pounds of food in that fiscal year. By 2020, it was up to 16 excuse me 64 point 9 million pounds. And then this year, which ends June 30, for us will have distributed over 78 million pounds of food this year, almost 14 million pounds more than we did the last year. And the one thing that we know during this pandemic is that the Federal nutrition programs were a key factor in helping us meet the increased need. And so harvesters for years has worked to strengthen public policy and government funding related to hunger issues by engaging harvesters, its member network, people facing food insecurity and supporters in the legislative process on hunger issues. We’ve also worked to educate legislators about the impact of their decisions on food insecure people in the nonprofit’s they serve. So when we think about the things that were put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we have to look at the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program which we call c fat. But it was also known as the former’s to families program. And it was created in direct response to increased need for hunger relief, as well as the disruptions to the food industry that resulted from the pandemic and economic downturn. So this program provided pre packaged boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables dairy meat in it also provided harvesters with approximately a million additional pounds each month. And that if you see really made up the bulk of our distribution increase, we could not have done it without the help of the federal government. And well, food and secure people benefited It was also beneficial to farmers who loves business due to restaurant schools and other food services that were closed due to COVID. And it also provided an economic impact for for those people because for those farmers because they were reimbursed. We’ve talked a little bit about snap, it is really a highly effective program designed to meet the needs of hungry families of farmers and grocers. And I think it’s a win win model. Really. We know it is a snap or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. And you know, once upon a time when when you used to get coupons now you get the EBT card, and so it makes it a lot more convenient. But what we know pandemic aside, you know, research shows that snap plays a critical role, not just in alleviating poverty and food insecurity but also in it Improving the dietary intake in the health especially among children. So it dipped dovetails with harvesters mission of a future in which we all have access to enough nutritious food to live healthy, productive lives. But unlike those seats that boxes or trip to the local pantry or a mobile food distribution, snap allows participants to select foods from their local grocery. And that enables them a wide variety of choices to meet their family’s religious, cultural, or preferred food needs. So harvesters, the snap outreach to assist individuals and families in determining if they meet the requirements for SNAP participation. And so we just started a collaboration. In Kansas, we serve counties in both Missouri and Kansas, there are three Feeding America Food Bank serving Kansas, and we are in a collaboration to do statewide snap assistance. And it is basically it’s really a think an important resource for the the participants in Kansas and really participants across the country. So for us, what we do is help people determine if they meet the requirements for SNAP participation. And if they do, we can also assist in the completion in the filling out in the file in excuse me, the snap application, it’s an important resource. But it’s not a perfect resource. There are some barriers to the program. And we may touch upon them a little later, as we speak. But I think at the end of the day, we know that the need for emergency food assistance, and I say emergency probably differently than the food bank founders of 40 years ago did because what we found is this food is sustaining for people who just don’t have the resources to meet their monthly cost. And it’s so important in this country, that we’d be able to provide a living wage really, that will enable people to be able to live a modest, stable lifestyle. Back to you.

Rust, 41:28

Great founder, I really so many points there. And one thing I want to mention is that we’ve had a lot of comments about health. And it’s I mean, this is exactly what your organization is doing. in so many different ways. It’s almost as if there’s such an integration, it’s no longer just meals, it’s the whole person. I want to briefly kind of contextualize some of this in the context of what I think many of our coalition members are doing. You know, I think it might be possible for folks to say, you know, hunger, very important. But you know, I’m a leader in building affordable housing. And that’s an important thing. I’m concerned about hunger in my community, but I have a lot to do, and only so many funding resources with which to do it. And similar statements could not just for people to build affordable housing. But um, the same thing could be said elsewhere, in terms of, you know, serving justice involved populations, working on the rights of families, working on behalf of our newest Americans, anyone who’s marginalized in any way. These are all important endeavors whose solutions are urgent, and, you know, also ones that that are very important, right. So, but here’s the context, I think is important is that we’re all serving similar populations, right. And you’ve heard you’ve heard panelists today talking about how hunger is an expansive problem. It’s not just something that exists in a silo. But it’s something also that community based organizations of all types can join. You know, hunger is a housing problem, hungers, a jobs problem, hungers, an education problem. It’s a justice problem. And to the extent that hunger leads downstream to those problems. It’s the same, it’s the same function the other way, it’s a two way street. A lack of housing becomes a hunger problem. Lack of a job creates a hunger problem. A lack of education prolongs a hunger problem. And one thing that I wanted to mention, which I think is a another additive point here is that snap Well, most often associated with providing stipends for the purchase of food also has a program a very significant program that addresses workforce opportunities. And again, the lack of the job is a fundamental problem or the lack of a job that pays a living wage. 40% of long term SNAP recipients have a high school degree 50% have less than a high school degree There’s a vital need for more training opportunities. So there’s a program called the SNAP Employment and Training Program, snapping and T that provides funding federal funding from states or federal funding for states to build workforce training programs, and this is something that’s truly a across the aisles political winner. And yet, at the same time, snap E and T. Well, according to a recent report from USDA, they put it simply snapping tea has been historically underutilized. And the missing piece, and again, really key for our coalition here is that the missing piece is often finding a state partner, and local community-based organizations and particularly community-based organizations that can understand and work inside community values, right. So I encourage all of you to reach out to NCRC, we have staff members who are working on the snap UNC program. We are we are a partner organization in the largest community-based Workforce Development Program in Delaware, we’re building out a pre-apprenticeship program, in partnership with minority lead trade unions in Philadelphia. And all these efforts are, are based on building opportunities for people to have living wages, because just like we’re trying to end hunger, we’re trying to end hunger, through finding sustainable ways to support people so that they can then move on, and, and be free of hunger, but be secure in many different ways. So the bottom line is, if you’re in a community, and you’re trying to solve one of the outcomes of hunger, then you already know through the faces of the people that you serve every day, that economic security doesn’t exist all by itself, it’s an overlapping issue with overlapping layers of inequity. And since I’m speaking, and this is about the last part, I’ll say, with a coalition of organizations that have a deep understanding of local and state politics, but I want to reinforce something that you probably already understand in your current context, which is that we cannot think of our collective work in zero-sum terms. Right? If the organizing that we do to generate the political will to resolve hunger in our communities, is something that the city council funds, but at the expense of affordable housing, or let’s say, after school programs for teens, then we really haven’t had a win, right? You when your organization builds housing, when you are working to prepare people for jobs. When you’re working to support small business development, inevitably, you’re also working to address the root causes of hunger. So having said that, because I really felt like it was important to add on this workforce part, I want to then kick it over to our panelists and engage in kind of a more open-ended conversation. And, you know, addressing some of the comments we’ve seen, maybe kick it off with I’m curious if people want to talk more about how health is something that is emerging as a fundamental part of their strategy.

Habash, 47:02

I can definitely, and I’ll just be brief, it definitely is at the top of our list, I think one of the things that if I could leave you with one message even above that, and I use this a lot, I stayed at a food and Security Summit A few years ago, and I got to close it. But I also said I wanted to open it, because I wanted them to think about the fact that food insecurity has nothing to do with the end of the day, it’s a resource question and the people that we’re all helping, when you look at the collective, you know, from all the things that Adam talked about the end of the day, it’s about choices people have to make, and they’re not good enough economic choices, they don’t have the resources to go to the grocery store, believe me, that’s where they would rather go get your food, you know, and they’re choosing between housing and rent, you know, and food, the choosing between utility bills and food are choosing between health care and food. And I think that’s if we learn anything through all of this is we’re not competing with each other across those different strategies that are people need to work on. We’re all in this together. And we’ve got to come at it in a collective way. For us, it’s been around, we got access to fresh food, it’s in the fields, we can help pay the farmers we can get that food in, and we can have health outcomes. That’s what matters. To me. My new measurement of success that I have not figured out is what’s the health impact of us getting new food on a regular basis, particularly fresh, healthy food.

Nicholson-Watson, 48:30

Oh, I’m jumping in. You know what? There’s that old saying, if you don’t have a hill, you don’t have anything. And you can think about it in those terms. And when you think about how important nutrition is to help you also have to think about the financial or economic impact of poor health resulting, whether it is lost productivity and lost wages for a household or lost productivity for a company. And so one of the reasons that we started with nutrition and health care was we believe that when we look at the people, we serve in some of those barriers to their ability to be able to create a sustainable modest lifestyle, we found that so many had chronic illnesses, at least one person in the family had a chronic illness. And if we could partner with the health care, industry, to help those people better maintain their health, then that’s what we want it to do. And it kind of goes back to, you know, preventative medicine, maintaining your good health or emergency room visits, you know, and it just makes sense that people be able to have enough nutritious food, to maintain their good health. Because once you have your health, you’re able to move on to other things.

Wheeler, 50:09

We’ve been really fortunate, and thank you, both Matt and Valerie, we actually train up and coming physicians, about food insecurity in the city and what they can do, we have gone on grand rounds at some of the hospitals to let them know what that in their communities, this is what hunger looks like. And we actually have a referral process for many of our, for some of our hospitals, where when a doctor identifies an individual as food insecure, they can refer them to us. And we will work on getting them to into snap or any of the other programs. Technology is really helping us do this. So if any of your constituents are looking at that, we are now looking at databases that are maintained in the hospital and the community-based organizations that do outreach. And once a person is identified as food insecure, they’re actually referred to us to help them and they’re also tracked, so we can find out did they get through did they get on a program so that we can make sure that, that that’s, there’s a follow-through on that. And we’re not just sort of handing them off a piece of paper. So we’re really are looking to work with a lot of organizations around health, particularly physicians, and we have produce our acts were actually stood, doctors can write a prescription for healthy fruits and vegetables for individuals to take into grocery stores. And we recognize health is critical. And food insecurity is really something we have to deal with in order for people to have their health.

Rust, 52:02

Under the fence, we have things to say about what they think their communities will be seeing post pandemic.

Habash, 52:13

Only thing I would add, I guess crop offer to that is we’re in this for the long haul, this is not going to be an easy one, just because people are getting vaccinated, or at least majority of your country seems to be headed in that direction. This is gonna take a long time, I think what we all know Valerie, and I’ve been around a long time in the world of feeding people when you’ve been through recessions in the past, and it takes 510 years to come out of those recessions. And I think this one’s harder, because a lot of people made a lot of money. You know, the cake analysis of you know, some people have done really well and other people haven’t is real, you know, and it’s going to be slow coming out of this. And people are going to be asking for help for a long time. And I think that’s, you know, hope donor fatigue doesn’t set and people don’t start, what happens is people blame the victim. You know, it’s your fault now, all of a sudden, because there’s jobs available, but the jobs that are available right now are high-risk jobs with low pay, you know, and you know, we wouldn’t do it, why would we expect somebody else to then put themselves at risk? And I think there’s a lot that I tell people to be patient. I think one of the other issues that ties this together is the issue of mental health. That is something that we’re going to have to come to grips with this pandemic has really brought that to light and there’s a lot of challenges for everybody in the mental health space and we don’t deal with that well in America.

Nicholson-Watson, 53:37

I agree. You know, in we have experienced this in the past where we go through a recession and then we begin getting news that you know, the economy is recovering the stuff The market is doing great. But that leaves such a large portion of our population behind. And so as we begin to hear news that our economy is improving, we need to understand that it’s not improving for all of us, because even before the pandemic, we had 35,000, food-insecure people. And so as we move forward, we know that the need for food assistance will remain high. And we will continue to provide that food assistance. While we also continue to work on strategies in foreign partnerships. To help address the root causes.

Wheeler, 54:34

I would love to see the members of NCRC workaround snap education and training, we found that if we worked with the restaurant industry, that we could actually train individuals to work in their neighborhoods, either in the restaurant or working on perfect preparing food for the hospitals, anywhere where we could also bring in federal dollars. But we need partners who will do the training. And we talked about this just a little bit earlier. But I think snap education and training programs we need, we get an opportunity to take advantage of those. We get people back into the workforce, we get economic development going on, and it helps everyone. So I would say if there’s one thing help work around snap education and training.

Rust, 55:32

I want to just take him out a little bit further. The snap is a program that’s funded federally, but then a lot of the decisions are made at the state level. As you think about what people can do politically, what are your thoughts on points that might be important to raise? And maybe where and with him? I imagine this is a question Beverly, just knowing a little bit, she might have the first comment to say, but um, I think this is important to our members.

Wheeler, 56:03

No, I think you need to first educate your local legislators about what snap is and what it isn’t how much I’m always telling them how much money they are leaving on the table, when they don’t incorporate snap and snap education, snap training, snap it any of the Federal nutrition programs. So educate yourself about what they are, and then tell your legislators once they realize how much money is left on the table, they will make big efforts to go and improve that.

Nicholson-Watson, 56:41

And I think we also need to make sure that the program is doing what it is intended to do. One of the things that that we’ve been fighting here in Kansas and Missouri is one of the requirements on an application that says you will cooperate with child support enforcement. And our staff has found that 25 to 30% of applicants in this situation declined to go farther with the application process out of fear. And this is proven to be a significant barrier for some of the people, mostly women who have concerns regarding their personal safety and the safety of their children in relation to this requirement. So we’ve got a good program, you know, a basically good program, but we just have to make sure it is working for the purpose it is intended to.

Habash, 57:45

…Anything I would add to that, you know, I think a lot of ways this is like voter fraud, you know, get people saying there’s voter fraud, voter fraud, rewriting the rules, you know, there’s not that much, you know, it’s tiny fraud in the SNAP program. And most of the time we find it, it’s not what the recipients it’s with the merchants in certain circumstances. So we’ve got to get over this, you know, we’ve really given snap a bad name. And if I could do one pie in the sky, real big change, I would get rid of the benefit Cliff of snap, if you truly can align business together with human services, and do what we do in childcare where it goes up to 300% of poverty, no and a sliding scale model, then you don’t have people there’s a lot of people struggling that are just above those benefit levels, you know, and they get kicked out. You know, so there’s a lot in all of this. There’s a lot of requirements being put on a program. It doesn’t need them, Id requirements. And as stores go to automation, we’re not saying validate IDs, I’m like, it doesn’t work in grocery store. It’s that kind of thing that says, Look, this is about helping people letting students get this that or going to college. You know, that’s a big Why would we not want to help somebody that’s trying to get their next degree for our team around here likes to say their second job, it’s a much higher paying job. We’ve got to rethink our benefit structure, we penalize people, instead of really saying, These are building blocks, we ought to come up with strategies to allow people to access them so that they can in fact, improve their own lives.

Rust, 59:16

I’m thinking that we’ve covered a lot. I would like to ask one more question that I see in the panel in the comments from our audience. And I don’t know, there’s a question about school meals. And whether or not that support for that will be extended, because there has been some support for it in legislation, p EBT. Things like that. What’s your take on the chances of that being extended and made permanent?

Wheeler, 59:45

Absolutely. There’s no doubt about it, we’re already working on Capitol Hill. That’s the Child Nutrition Act – they’re already working on it. And with P EBT. being such an incredible, wonderful Savior, for a lot of families when the school is closed, and expand to them P EBT. To the end of September, I think you’re not going to it’s a wonderful we realized during the pandemic, it was a wonderful way to help families.

Habash, 1:00:18

I would agree with that, I would just encourage us to really look at SNAP for the summer, you know, and extending benefits to snap with summer feedings a wonderful program, but it’s still an administrative, got a lot of costs, and giving people more dollars on their snap helps people that are eligible. So I think that’s in schools recently 101 school districts in my 20 County area, you know, when they shut down, there was a huge increase the need for universal meals, getting rid of the stigma of free and reduced price. Those things make sense. Why not feed kids breakfast and lunch at school, and quit worrying about whether they’re income eligible or not. And all the stigma that goes with that, you know, your high school kid or a middle schooler, and you’re stigmatized, let’s eliminate that and just feed people. It wasn’t designed to be a healthy food program, when it first started, we got to get back to that kind of thinking.

Nicholson-Watson, 1:01:12

Now, I’m just gonna agree with everything that has been said, you know that it is so important that, you know, we talk a lot in this country about self-reliance. But what we really need to share is that we all sometimes need some assistance due to no fault of our own. And clearly children cannot be faulted for anything that they have don’t have or that they need. And I think it just makes sense for us, as a country with all of the resources that we have to ensure that we have healthy, safe children who are not stigmatized, or denied. basics. And food is always a basic.

Rust, 1:02:04

Was this great? I want to essentially I want to give folks a chance to say one more thing, if it hasn’t been covered yet that you just wanted to get across to our members. Before we go, so offer your thoughts.

Wheeler, 1:02:20

So I’ll start, um, one of the things I would love them to remember that snap, also contribute to the community that forever people who receive snap are not putting the money in their 401k they’re actually spending it in the community. And studies show bad stat, snap expenses, once it’s spent, generates about $1.50 to $1.80. So we’re actually benefiting the communities and that we need to remember that some of the things that we’re doing,

Nicholson-Watson, 1:03:00

I would, I would echo that it is a win-win proposition. It helps the people who receive SNAP benefits, it helps the farmers and it helps local economies because those snap dollars are being spent in our local groceries.

Habash, 1:03:17

I would just add to that. And I mean, I had a lot of grocers that were hesitant about lobbying for SNAP, and it was 40% of their bridges business and some of these broke small communities. I said, why would you not want to do that? You know, so it’s an education process. But I think overall, this for everybody that’s in the audience. We’re all in this together. And I think it’s a recognition that you know, collectively, it’s not about the silos, I think we’ve learned a lot human service organizations and health care and education. We’re all working really hard in our lanes. But the reality of it is we need to take a very person centric approach and say, How can we collaborate? Live into what collaboration and collective impact really mean in your community. And I would just encourage them.

Rust, 1:04:01

Well, this has been great. I want to thank all of our panelists, I think you’ve really brought up a lot of interesting commentary to our audience. And I appreciate it to our audience, I’d say, Please, help. If you have comments or questions, feel free, certainly leave some feedback in the chat but also if you want to reach out and engage further, please do so. Because obviously what hunger is not going away. We are out of business yet on this field. So any kind of interaction that you feel that would be useful in your community is something that is very important to hear. So that Thank you.



















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