It’s Time to Change the Story

Author: Jordan Vernoy, State Director of the Iowa Food Bank Association

Being in Washington D.C. recently for the National Anti-Hunger Policy conference reminded of how muffled the voice of the marginalized in this country can be when up against money and power. Anti-hunger advocates do not come to the table with a big check book, in fact we are not allowed to do so, and we do not come to the table with inherent influence, because the people we represent have none. We come to the table with real life stories of fellow Americans, fellow Iowans, who are fighting for their ability to survive in a competitive society, which undeniably has winners and losers. Unlike a friendly game of Words with Friends, where a loss simply leads to a rematch and bragging rights for your defeater, the losers of this game go to bed with an empty stomach, wake the next day lacking the energy and drive that comes with the basic need of food, and look to their leaders for hope for a better future.

Unfortunately, the portrait of the food insecure painted in the media is often of individuals playing the game and taking advantage of the system. We MUST change this story. We must call on the media to share the stories of those who have been beaten down by a life and society that is not always fair. We must give a voice to those who just want a rematch, to those who are fighting for a win. We must share the story of the 1 in 5 SNAP participants who live on less than $2 a day in the United States of America. This transition seems impossible when the programs that support these individuals during their struggles are constantly under threat of cuts due in part to a misrepresentation of their participants’ plight.

You heard recently from Amy Costliow, our newest SNAP Outreach Worker, about her experiences with Iowans who she has assisted in applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. I have known Amy since she joined the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance at the University of Northern Iowa, and have witnessed her overwhelming passion to serve the underserved. I hired her because of her resilience in the face of adversity and her desire to uncover the truth. I was with her yesterday as she was visibly upset about the stories making the media, and the comments she hears from her family and community members, concerning individuals who receive government assistance. She said that as she has been travelling the state meeting with hundreds of individuals in need throughout Iowa, she has not met ONE person who she felt was trying to take advantage of the system. Not ONE. I am not denying that they are out there, they are, but they are the vast minority. They are 1% of fraud and abuse on the part of SNAP recipients, but it is that 1% that makes the news. It is the people telling those stories that get their voice heard. It isn’t the family in Iowa living in a home with dirt floors, yes DIRT FLOORS. This is not a life they choose to live, and it is not a life they will be able to escape with fewer SNAP benefits and less food provided by their local food pantry, due to cuts in the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). This is not the life of a lottery winner; it is the life of a fellow Iowan who lacks the basic necessities to live the life all humankind deserves.

It is time to change this system that stigmatizes, criminalizes and muzzles the poor and downtrodden in this country. We will never have money or power to offer, but what we bring is a vote. When we gather in masses and shout our concerns, the elected officials start tallying up the votes in their head, and nothing gives them more power than their position. We can sway this congress, we can have a voice, but it means YOU have to Take Action. YOU have to be aware and prepared to Take Action.

Please go to www.hungeractioncenter.org and sign up to be on alert to Take Action. Once you’re there, learn about the issues and be prepared. You do not have to wait for a call to action either. Call your congressmen today, federal and state, and tell them that you support feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and giving shelter to the homeless. Let them know you will vote for those who show they feel the same through their actions!

You can call your congressmen by dialing (202)224-3121 and asking for their office. Find your state legislators contact information here: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/Legislators/find.aspx

If you want to know how you can get more engaged, e-mail jvernoy@feedingamerica.org  or give me a call at 319-272-2180.

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Posted on March 14, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Jordan, you are absolutely right. It is time to change the story. I’m signing up to take action.

    I’d also like to know if you have some ideas on how to get children and families involved. For example, my son had a birthday party this year and we asked that his friends bring donations to the food bank, rather than gifts. It was a huge success!

    One thing I noted when I was at the bank donating the food was the tremendous amount of processed food in the bank. I realize that is necessary, but are there ways we can donate fresh food?

    Finally, I am a big advocate of teaching people of all ages how to cook from scratch using fresh fruits and veggies. Are there any cooking classes offered by your organization? If so, can people or chefs volunteer to teach classes?

    Thanks for all you do!

    Mariah Andrews

    Like

    • Mariah,
      Thank you for signing up to take action. If you haven’t already, a first easy action step is sharing this blog through your social media outlets. The more people who hear the message and decide to take action, the more resounding voice we can have when we all engage.

      You have some wonderful questions. First of all, what a wonderful birthday party idea. It sounds like you are the person to go to for ways to get children and families involved! I would say that depending on the age of the child there are a lot of different opportunities. Often families volunteer at the food bank together if the children are old enough. This age limit will differ based on the location. As far as advocacy, we have some quality data on child food insecurity which can be a very powerful message. Children writing letters or sending postcards with their thoughts on children going hungry in our State could be a very powerful message to State and Federal legislators. Just one idea. I know that Sesame Street is getting more and more engaged with the hunger issue, and there is a newer character, Lily, who is food insecure. So, that would be a good spot to educate children on the issue.

      You can most definitely donate fresh produce. Another way to engage children and families may be planting a garden with the sole purpose of donating the produce to the food bank or local food pantry. What you can’t do is donate foods that are in any way home processed (cooked, canned, diced, frozen, etc.). Food safety regulations prohibit these types of donations.

      At this time cooking courses are only a dream for many food banks in Iowa. The Food Bank for the Heartland in Omaha, NE serves a portion of Western Iowa, and they recently moved into a new facility which they retrofitted with a teaching kitchen. They are now teaching courses to low-income families like you described. The Northeast Iowa Food Bank is towards the end of a capital campaign to build a new building, which will also have a kitchen with these capabilities. Finally, Iowa State University Extension has some courses which provide some of these skills to low-income families. However, it is still a big need, and I think if there is a kitchen in your community at a senior center, community center or church, you could probably find some way to create a cooking program for low-income families. Where food banks lack capacity for these efforts, hunger advocates like you can step in!

      Thanks again for your support of our efforts to feed hungry Iowans, and please feel free to contact me anytime.

      Like

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