We are at a crossroads.
Not since 1968 has hunger been so at the forefront of the American consciousness, and never before have we had the advocacy tools at our fingertips to take advantage of such a moment. We have A Place at the Table and National Geographic, TakePart and the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. We have Share Our Strength and Feeding America at the top of their respective games, working with hundreds of thousands of on-the-ground partners to feed food insecure children and adults. Our media, our government and our nonprofits are all reaching more people with an overwhelming message: this is a problem, and we have to do something.
Our fork in the road lies in what that “something” is. For so long we have focused on can drives and doing good. We must now turn our focus to doing well. We cannot donate our way out of hunger or spend our way out of poverty. Our patchwork of emergency feeding systems – food shelves, food banks, soup kitchens, shelters – do phenomenal work in the situations described exactly by their name. There will always be a need for these angels of last resort, on call for emergencies, for immediate needs, for the day or for the week or for the month. They should not and cannot be for the years or for the lifetime, but so many times they are. This is a failure in a safety net designed for those who have fallen through so many others. We have to do better than this.
We have a moral obligation as a country and world so bountiful to ensure that those around us have what they need to thrive. These emergency feeding systems are a piece but not the whole puzzle, a corner of a picture we all need to help paint. I’d like to think the Guide to Food Drives and MEANS fit into these small details. What myself and my team do is one tiny brushstroke of a portrait that cannot be dominated by the colors of short-term relief. Domestically, programs like SNAP and WIC paired with powerful job-training and education initiatives like those engineered at DC Central Kitchen serve the immediate need while giving those receiving food for a day the tools to feed themselves for a lifetime. Internationally, microfinancing cooperatives and interventions designed by the communities they are used in serve the same purpose, building an infrastructure to uphold those living in poverty as opposed to lifting them up with no supports to keep these vulnerable populations from tumbling right back down.
We will always have a place for food pantries in church basements. We will always need programs like SNAP and WIC. We will not always have the momentum now surrounding hunger in America to do more. SNAP has faced fire over costs and likely will again. Food pantries run out of donations and are at the mercy of markets and corporate social responsibility offices. These are good systems run by great people who cannot and should not be expected to solve hunger. They are on the front lines of a battle raging for centuries. It’s time for us to add reinforcements and begin to win the war once and for all.