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 email@example.com or give me a call at 319-272-2180.