Outreach Case Manager Ronald Hargrave attended the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference March 2-4 in Washington, D.C. in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository. From his professional experience of helping manage the food pantry at St. Vincent de Paul Center, Ronald had an opportunity to advocate for pantry guests who share with us about their need for food, their limited access to healthy food, and the direct impacts to them from decisions affecting federal nutrition programs.
“In the past few years, I’ve seen the face of hunger change. More and more, the people coming to St. Vincent De Paul Center on the North Side are people who have lost their jobs. They’re older adults who are on a fixed income. They’re people deciding between paying for medicine and buying food. They’re struggling to afford food on a day-to-day basis.”
Before visiting Congressional Staff offices, Ronald attended workshops focused on feeding children year-round, fighting hunger for older Americans, and how to effectively advocate to lawmakers. He learned about the importance of summer and after-school meal programs and the benefits children experience when they do not go hungry, and how to ensure a seamless transition between summer and after-school meal programs. The Fighting Hunger for Older Americans session explained the unique nutritional needs of seniors and how individuals, communities, and pantries can equip themselves to address senior hunger. This was especially helpful given the large number of older adults who participate in our food pantry.
“All those people have had a different road to the food pantry. But there’s one thing they have in common: the need for nutritious food. Too many times I’ve heard people at the pantry say that after rent, utilities, other bills and living expenses, they barely have enough money for food, let alone nutritious food.”
The conference concluded at Capitol Hill with office visits to our local members of Congress. Ronald met with staff members at Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Mike Quigley’s offices to be a voice for our community.
It is important for Congress to focus on strengthening and expanding federal nutrition programs because hunger is a public health issue and a symptom of poverty. If our government is committed to economic security, federal programs and policies need to demonstrate that commitment. People living in poverty or on a fixed income often have to choose between eating healthy foods and covering the cost of another expense, such as medicine or a utility bill. It is important for Congress to strengthen and expand federal nutrition programs so individuals are able to access food, and especially access healthy food options.
“We receive fresh fruit and vegetables through the Food Depository’s Food Rescue program and that’s a huge part of getting nutritious food into our community. But we also need to speak for our neighbors in need. We need lawmakers to know, for example, about the 78-year-old woman with a $1,200 per month pension who doesn’t qualify for SNAP and who can’t afford fresh produce. We need to let them know that access to healthy, nutritious food is a basic human right, and anything less is unacceptable.”
“This conference helped me better understand the need for Federal Nutrition Programs. There are people who would not be able to feed their families without these programs. I learned more about how to better advocate for our food pantry clients as well as the families in our child development program - families with young children who need regular access to nutritious food options.” –Mr. Ronald Hargrave