March 2017 | St. Louis Area Foodbank

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Political, not Partisan: Signing on with other Nonprofits to Stay Accountable

We’ve signed another letter to lawmakers, but not one about safety-net programs. Let’s talk about why.

Political action – what we describe at the St. Louis Area Foodbank as “advocacy” – is a critical part of what we do. We work hard to address hungry people’s immediate needs and to work towards eliminating hunger in our community, and we cannot do that without being politically engaged. After all, how can we work towards a hunger-free future if we don’t work with our leaders and try to inform the laws that shape that future?  And so we support the policies that strengthen hunger-relief programs and oppose those that threaten them.

So we are political. We work with the public, other nonprofits, and the government; it’s unavoidable.

But being politically active and being politically partisan is not the same thing.

As a nonprofit organization we are firmly nonpartisan, and this makes sense because hunger is a nonpartisan issue. Viable solutions demand everybody’s participation and cooperation, and we want to remain a safe and trustworthy place for the public that supports us, the volunteers that visit us, and the agencies that work alongside us.

But in February during the National Prayer Breakfast, the president promised to undo the Johnson Amendment, a section of tax law that ensures nonprofits steer clear of partisan politics. In fact, several bills have already been introduced in Congress this year that would nearly or completely do just that.

This provision requires that organizations with tax-exempt status – charitable nonprofits, foundations, and religious organizations – “not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

In other words, as the law now stands, our work and funding must remain focused on feeding hungry people, not on the success or failure of any politicians. Our ability to pursue political action is limited and clearly defined, ensuring that the public support we receive is being spent on our mission and not on partisan politics. If the law changes, however, we could be targeted by political campaigns for support or donations. And worse, we could lose the public’s trust – trust we need to keep our shelves stocked and our neighbors’ bellies full.

And that’s why we joined nonprofit organizations across the nation and signed a letter initiated by the National Council of Nonprofits urging our lawmakers to protect the laws that protect nonprofits and hold us accountable.

Hunger, after all, is everybody’s problem. Why drag it into the political mire and dilute critical hunger-relief work with partisanship?

Read more about the Johnson Amendment, the proposed bills, and the letter we’ve signed here. And stay connected with us for updates about our political – not partisan – actions.

National School Breakfast Week

This week is National School Breakfast Week, spotlighting the benefits of school breakfast for kids across the country.

The School Breakfast Program (SBP) is designed to give students affordable access to food at the start of each school day, which promotes better learning outcomes as well as happier, healthier kids. Fortunately, like school lunches, school breakfast is heavily subsidized or free for students from low-income families.

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But even as we celebrate this important federal program, we cannot help but take note of troubling recommendations coming from the House of Representatives.

On January 23rd a bill titled “Choices in Education Act of 2017” was introduced in the United States House of Representatives. The first half of this bill (H.R.610) repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, replacing it with an educational voucher program.

As introduced, Title II of the bill – the “No Kid Hungry Act” – also repeals a 2012 rule established by the USDA that enforces nutritional standards for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. These standards – designed to support student health through better, more balanced nutrition – require schools to offer more fruits & vegetables, whole grains, and low or fat-free milk while limiting the amount of sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats in school meals. The standards also provide guidelines for meeting the caloric needs of students at different ages and stages of development.

At the St. Louis Area Foodbank, 31% of the people we serve are children, 95% of whom participate in the National School Lunch Program. These students rely on food from school to make up for shortfalls at home, which puts schools in a unique position to provide for kids’ nutritional needs.

According to a 2016 report from The Pew Charitable Trusts, “[s]tudies of schools in three states—Connecticut, Texas, and Washington—show that under the updated standards, children’s eating habits are improving […] Students of all ages are choosing lunches higher in nutritional quality and lower in calories per gram and consuming more fruits and larger shares of their entrees and vegetables.”

This is great and important news for children suffering from food insecurity, but this progress might be short lived if nutritional standards are rolled back.

The National School Lunch Program is one of the country’s most important safety net programs, one that helps kids who might otherwise face serious nutritional deficits in adolescence and the many long term consequences of hunger as adults.

While H.R.610 has only recently been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and while it is far too soon to tell if this bill will rouse much support in the House or Senate, it does raise serious questions about how we support the most vulnerable kids in our communities.

Hunger – especially child hunger – is a bi-partisan issue that demands our best thinking and effort. We will continue to follow this bill and others concerning the hunger safety-net and child nutrition in the weeks and months to come. We invite you to join us.

Check back often for more legislative updates as we work together to fight hunger in our community.

Perryville Pillow Talk

Our neighbors in Perryville have had some rough nights of sleep, so we’re sending pillows!

Early this week, we were happy to receive pallets of pillows that were donated because they were mismarked and couldn’t be sold in retail stores. We started distributing the pillows to transitional housing programs, but when we heard about the tornado emergency in Perryville, MO, we wanted to help. We worked with Salvation Army to load up two of their trucks with new pillows for those affected by the Perryville tornado Tuesday night.

We were glad to be involved and send help however we could. We didn’t know that the pillows we received as a donation would be needed this week, but we were happy to take them knowing they’d find good homes somewhere.

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Many people don’t realize that we take donations of all kinds, or that we distributed over one million pounds of non-food items last year. These include household cleaning items, emergency response items, personal care and child care items. All of these are among the most requested items for families in need, and we’re proud to distribute them.

Thank you to Salvation Army for helping us help others rest easy!

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