Rethinking Solutions to Hunger
Innovative partnerships and programs can address the underlying causes of food insecurity
November 16, 2017
Guest blog by Linda Nageotte, President & CEO of Food Lifeline
When we think of hunger, we think of scarcity of food. In fact, 10 years ago the USDA, began using the term "food insecurity," shifting focus from a word that conjures starvation to one that describes the struggle 12 percent of households in Washington state face—having consistent access to enough nutritious food.
The causes of food insecurity are myriad: inadequate financial resources, unaffordable or inaccessible healthcare, lack of stable and affordable housing, under-employment and a lack of living wage jobs. Hunger is also caused by systemic and social injustice.
When we talk about people facing hunger, we are describing our neighbors whose household budget gaps have forced them to make inconceivable choices: rent or groceries? Feed their family or heat their home? Fill the prescription or fill their child’s tummy? These are the tradeoffs families are making every day. And when putting food on the table loses out to paying the rent, that’s when families end up at their local food bank or meal program.
To address immediate food needs, the hunger safety net provides critical resources to feed food-insecure families today. This includes essential government-funded programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school meals and the Women Infant Children program, which must all be adequately funded and accessible. The safety net also includes the charitable network of food banks, meal programs and large distributors like Food Lifeline that source and redistribute food.
In the longer term, we must collectively adopt forward-looking policies and innovative programs that solve hunger permanently. Food Lifeline focuses on building partnerships with organizations and agencies that work in adjacent social sectors. We add our core competency of providing healthy food to their critical services such as financial asset-building, job training and employment, healthcare and affordable housing. At Food Lifeline, we believe that when organizations collaborate deeply to address a family’s challenges, we have a better opportunity to improve their stability for a lifetime.
Last summer, Food Lifeline and SeaMar Community Health Centers joined forces to provide food-insecure diabetic patients with a “prescription” to twice-monthly, onsite healthy food distributions and to public programs like SNAP. We are working to increase their food security and household stability, and improve blood sugar management. Evaluations within the next few months will determine the success of this strategy.
Opportunities for new collaborations are extensive if we think creatively and aim for smart outcomes. One promising idea includes using Food Lifeline’s facility and trucking fleet for more than storage and distribution, partnering with a job-training organization that prepares individuals for a new vocation in warehousing or transportation.
The families we serve struggle with household budget shortfalls and many lack banking resources. Research shows that providing support for them to access responsible banking products, establish savings accounts and strategically manage resources helps families weather financial shocks like unexpected medical bills. What if the charitable food sector, which last year served 677,000 of our neighbors, had strong financial services partners that could provide pathways to better financial health?
We recognize that these approaches to fighting hunger are new, and we expect to learn a lot as we move forward. Together with our partners, we aim to test pilot programs, find proven strategies that work and scale successful collaborations to benefit as many people as possible.
We have a huge hill to climb as a community working to end hunger. At Food Lifeline we believe this hill is surmountable, and we look forward to the challenge.
Linda Nageotte is the President & CEO of Food Lifeline, a nonprofit organization that rescues food and provides meals to end hunger today for thousands of people across Western Washington and works regionally to provide a long-term solution to hunger that ensures everybody has enough food to eat. Learn more at foodlifeline.org.
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