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Ashley Goes to Washington, D.C.

The St. Louis Area Foodbank Sends Delegate to the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference and Lobby Day

At the end of February, I took a trip to our nation’s capital to attend the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference organized by the Food Research & Action Center and our national organization, Feeding America. During the conference, I connected with leaders in the anti-hunger movement, sharpened my advocacy skills, and took some time to think critically about the systemic conditions that lead some of our neighbors into poverty and food insecurity.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Language Matters. It’s easy to think about people facing food insecurity as “needy” or “people that we serve.” But the truth is, the families accessing our resources face huge challenges – racism, economic injustice, physical disabilities and health problems, unemployment, underemployment, limited educational opportunities, burdensome housing costs, and more – with resilience and creativity. As an anti-hunger organization, these individuals aren’t just clients. They’re experts with lived experiences, and their unique perspectives provide crucial insights that make fighting and eliminating hunger possible.
  • Constituents make the best Anti-Hunger Advocates. Studies show – not to mention my own experience with state or federal legislators – that lawmakers really do care about their constituents’ opinions, concerns, and suggestions. Many people believe that policy is controlled by lobbyists and special interests, and while they do play a part, lawmakers and their staff consistently report that constituent input heavily influences decision-making. What does that mean? Your voice and your political engagement matters. (Sign up for our emails below to receive action alerts and to learn more about your role in anti-hunger advocacy!)
  • Federal Nutrition Programs are at risk of cuts, but we CAN do something about it. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) has been the topic of considerable debate on Capitol Hill. From major cuts to substantial programmatic changes, policy proposals focused on SNAP and the other federal nutrition programs upon which millions of families rely threaten to weaken these programs’ effectiveness and leave many people in our country hungrier than ever. But when advocates come together to educate lawmakers and lobby for positive change, we make a real impact on the future of anti-hunger and anti-poverty legislation in this country.

And come together we did on Lobby Day- when anti-hunger advocates from around the country gathered on Capitol Hill to impress upon our lawmakers the value of nutrition programming. For my part, I had the privilege to meet with many of our members’ legislative staff to discuss the Foodbank’s work and the impact programs like SNAP make on the health and wellness of our region. I was even fortunate enough to meet with two members of the House Agriculture Committee, Representatives Rodney Davis and Mike Bost, to explain our priorities for the next Farm Bill.

Meeting with Congressman Rodney Davis.
Meeting with Congressman Rodney Davis.

All in all, Lobby Day took a lot of planning and an awful lot of walking, but it’s worth it. As I told our Members of Congress, for every meal a food bank in Feeding America’s national network provides, SNAP provides 12. Ultimately, we can’t fight hunger as effectively without the government’s help. That’s why these programs are so worth protecting and so worth fighting for. Ending hunger is possible if we work together and pool the resources and know-how of non-profits, businesses, government, and private individuals. This is why the St. Louis Area Foodbank advocates as part of its commitment to feed hungry people.

And we hope you’ll join us! If you would like to know more about our advocacy efforts and the part you can play, sign up for our advocacy and policy email updates. You’ll learn a lot and have the chance to make a difference.

A Farm Bill for Our Future

January is nearly over, but 2018 has only just begun, and it’s shaping up to be a big year for anti-hunger advocates. September 30, 2018 marks the expiration of the Agricultural Act of 2014, commonly known as the Farm Bill. That means that the USDA and Congress are busy at work putting together a brand-new Farm Bill to reauthorize and fund dozens of federal programs for the next five years.

The Farm Bill includes programs and funding not only for farmers but also for nutrition and anti-hunger programs, research, conservation, and more.
The Farm Bill includes programs and funding not only for farmers but also for nutrition and anti-hunger programs, research, conservation, and more.

But the Farm Bill’s name can be deceiving. As former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack put it, “the bill covers much more than farms and farmers […] every farm bill also affects conservation, trade, nutrition, jobs and infrastructure, agricultural research, forestry and energy.”

No matter your vocation – or whether you’ve ever stepped foot on a farm or not – the Farm Bill should be on your radar. It’s a massive bill with massive importance for every American that eats food, drinks water, uses fuel….or believes in ending hunger once and for all.

The majority of the Farm Bill is devoted to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and other nutrition programs that incentivize healthy eating and ease the burden of food insecurity for millions of families every year. In fact, the St. Louis Area Foodbank partners with the federal government to operate a number of Farm Bill programs – like the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program – on behalf of food insecure people living in Missouri and Illinois.

Thanks to the Farm Bill, we make a bigger impact in our region and in the lives of our hungry neighbors every day. Our government partnership, codified in the Farm Bill, demonstrates what our other partnerships with non-profits, businesses, manufacturers and farmers also teach us – that we can do more and do better for those in need when we work together.

Certainly the Farm Bill is about programming and funding.

But it’s also about our collective, national commitment to meeting people’s most basic needs and fundamental rights.

That’s why we at the St. Louis Area Foodbank have signed a letter alongside Feeding America and other anti-hunger organizations urging Congress to reauthorize our new Farm Bill with this commitment and responsibility in mind. From strong SNAP funding to programs that connect farmers’ excess food to those in need, we believe policy can make a real difference in the lives of the 1 in 8 Americans facing hunger.

We will be keeping a close eye on the Farm Bill in the months to come. We hope you’ll join us.

 

In the meantime, consider taking action today by lending your voice to the cause! Sign this petition and tell Congress why our country’s commitment to feeding the hungry is important to you and why we should protect federal nutrition programs in the next Farm Bill.

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Check back here to learn more about the Farm Bill, the St. Louis Area Foodbank’s policy priorities, and the ways you can join us in anti-hunger advocacy.

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.

Signing-On for Strong Policy

2017 brings with it enormous change to the political landscape, from a new president and Congress to new state and local leadership. While so much change can feel disruptive and unpredictable, it also opens up abundant opportunities for advocacy on behalf of the people we serve and the causes we stand behind. That’s why the Foodbank is busy at work, forging relationships with our new leadership and supporting the anti-hunger programs – like SNAP, CSFP, and TEFAP – upon which so many Americans rely.

This month we have already signed on to a letter directed to Illinois’ leadership, joining over 120 of our partners within and beyond our service area to support the programs and legislation we know effectively fight hunger across the country.

As a signee of this letter, we are specifically asking Illinois’ 2 senators and 18 representatives to strengthen federal nutrition programs and protect them against cuts. We are also offering our help in addressing hunger statewide and across the nation.

The St. Louis Area Foodbank has signed this letter because we know the programs it defends work – assisting families struggling to put food on the table, promoting health, helping kids succeed in school, supporting farmers, and boosting local economies.

We have also signed because we believe making our voice heard and working with our elected officials is an essential way forward in the fight against hunger.

Check out the letter here.

And check back often for more news, updates, and ways to make a difference as a hunger advocate!

Call Congress About Food Donation Tax Deductions

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There are only a few days left for Congress to finish their work for the year, and we have an important opportunity to pass tax legislation that would bring billions of meals into our network.

Right now, Congress is working on a tax package that would renew or make permanent several expiring tax provisions.  We need your voice to make sure the food donation tax deduction is included in that final package.

We are joining nonprofits from around the country and calling Congress today to convince them to expand and make permanent the food donation tax deduction and other charitable tax incentives.  Will you join us?

Call Congress Today!
Calling Congress is easy.  Here’s how:

  1. Just dial our toll free number, (888) 398-8702, listen to the pre-recorded message and enter your zip code when prompted.
  2. Once you are connected to your first senator, state that you are a constituent, and give your name and the town you are calling from.
  3. Let them know you are calling about tax policy and deliver this important message:

As your constituent and supporter/employee of the St. Louis Area Foodbank, I am calling you to urge you to include the America Gives More Act charitable tax incentives in the final tax package currently being negotiated in Congress.  Feeding America food banks are providing food for 46.5 million Americans a year and need more food to meet the need.  At the same time, over 70 billion pounds of food are wasted each year here in America.  You can help us get more food to those in need by passing charitable giving tax incentives immediately.

Be sure to dial back in and speak with both of your senators and your representative.

Thank you for taking the time to support the St. Louis Area Foodbank!

Time is Ticking: Call Congress TODAY

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It’s time to take a stand. Time is running out to pass a child nutrition bill, so we are organizing advocates across the country to turn up the heat on Congress. 

Congress only addresses child nutrition programs once every five years, and we can’t miss this opportunity to improve the programs that help our nation’s kids get the nutritious food they need to thrive.  ​

It’s time for Congress to get to work. Join us in urging Congress to pass a strong child nutrition bill for our kids!

Call Congress Today! Here’s how:

    1. Dial our toll free number, (888) 398-8702 and listen to the pre-recorded message.
    2. Connect to your Senator first and enter your zip code.
    3. Once you are connected to your first Senator, state that you are a constituent and give your name and the town you are calling from.
    4. Let them know you are calling about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization and deliver this important message:

Time is running out to pass a strong child nutrition bill.  Too many kids in our community are not getting the nutritious food they need, and Congress can’t let the opportunity to improve these programs go by. These programs have a history of strong bi-partisan support. I urge you to pass a strong child nutrition bill this year that strengthens the programs so children have the fuel they need to grow up healthy and succeed. 

Be sure to dial back in so you talk to both of your Senators and your Representative.

Help us spread the word by sharing and posting on social media using #CNR2015​

We Need Your Voice!

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The current Child Nutrition Reauthorization expires on September 30 and we need to make sure Congress knows that passing a strong child nutrition bill that strengthens programs and reaches more kids must be a priority.

You can help by participating in our national call in day on Tuesday, September 15, and joining thousands of supporters from across the country to urge Congress to pass a strong child nutrition bill and ensure no child in America goes hungry.

Let’s show Congress that it’s time to end child hunger in America. 

 Calling Congress is easy. Here’s how:

  1. Dial our toll free number, (888) 398-8702, listen to the pre-recorded message and enter your zip code when prompted.
  2. Once you are connected to your first Member of Congress, state that you are a constituent, and give your name and the town you are calling from. (Please note the separate messages below).
  3. Senators – deliver this important message:
    As your constituent and supporter of the St. Louis Area Foodbank, please co-sponsor the Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act (S. 1966) and the Summer Meals Act (S. 613).
  4. Representative – deliver this important message: As your constituent and supporter of the St. Louis Area Foodbank,  I would like to see Congress pass a child nutrition bill that includes these three priorities. Streamline regulations for summer and after school meals. A summer EBT program to help families when school is out. A non-congregate meal option so program operators like food banks can reach kids who can’t access summer meal sites.
  5.  Be sure to dial back in and speak with your senator and your representative. Please note: Senator Blunt (MO) and Senator Kirk (IL) are already co-sponsoring this legislation. 

Double your impact in the Senate by sending an email

The Foodbank Goes to Washington

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At the end of June I packed my bags and headed to DC to represent the Foodbank and the hundreds of thousands of people we serve everyday. This was my second trip to DC as the St. Louis Area Foodbank’s Advocacy Coordinator, a position that was created in early 2014. Food banks around the US are stepping up their advocacy presence as we prepare to take our role in fighting hunger to the next level.

We work continuously with our partner, Feeding America, to connect with legislators and influence legislation that will directly impact the people we serve. As many of our friends know, the Foodbank covers 26 counties in Missouri and Illinois, which emcompasses 12 Members of Congress in DC. For my July 1, 2015 visit I was fortunate to meet with a total of eight staff members specializing in Agriculture legislation.

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The Visits

The day was packed with visits to both Senator McCaskill and Blunt’s offices (MO), as well as both Illinois Senators Durbin and Kirk. Rounding out the day I met with staff from Representatives Clay (MO-1), Davis (IL-13), Smith (MO-8) and Bost (IL-12).

Our asks were simple:

1) Support a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization that allows increased access to summer feeding programs for thousands of kids who are currently missing out on healthy, nutritious foods during the summer.

2) Make the America Gives More Act permanent, allowing small farmers, small businesses and restaurants to donate products, especially produce to the Foodbank.

The visits went great and the support for the upcoming CNR was very strong. Senator Durbin and Senator Kirk are very involved in the current process and will be working with our office over the next month to gather personal stories and information that will encourage change. Representative Bost and Davis have direct impact in their District where the Foodbank is currently sponsoring summer feeding sites. Representatives Clay and Smith were very understanding and shocked to see evidence that their district’s children are struggling and more flexible options for reaching kids are needed. And both Senators of Missouri, McCaskill and Blunt, were very receptive of information in Missouri and our desperate need for more summer feeding sites in rural areas.

We feel confident and lucky that information regarding the CNR was received so well and look forward to action on the Hill over the next few weeks – but we can’t stop now! The goal of food banks around the US is to bring awareness to the issue of hunger and how that directly affects people in our Member’s districts. Although I have the ability to travel to DC and meet with Members of Congress and their staff, it is truly the voice of their constituents that makes the largest impact.

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Your Turn:

I, along with advocacy coordinators around the US, have planted the seed, but now we need you to bring that message home. I strongly encourage you to contact your Members of Congress and remind them that children are the future and it is our duty to make sure they are taken care of and fully equipped for that future. Feeding children may seem simple enough, but the long-term impact it has is crucial.

Please take a moment to contact your Member of Congress regarding the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

Send an email

Find your representative and call or write

Additional information regarding the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization

 

Michelle KnightAdvocacy Coordinator

Call Congress About Child Nutrition

On September 30, the child nutrition bill will expire, and we need your help to convince Congress to get to work and make passing a strong child nutrition bill that invests in our nation’s children a priority.

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Help us spur Congress to action and strengthen child nutrition programs by calling today and spreading the word through social media.

 Calling Congress is easy. Here’s how:

  1. Dial our toll free number, (888) 398-8702, listen to the pre-recorded message and enter your zip code when prompted.
  2. Once you are connected to your House member, state that you are a constituent, and give your name and the town you are calling from.
  3. Let them know you are calling about Child Nutrition Reauthorization and deliver this important message:
    As your constituent and supporter of the St. Louis Area Foodbank, I’m calling you today about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Too many kids in our community are not getting the food they need, particularly during the summer months when school is out.

    As my Member of Congress, you can do something about it. 
    I urge you to pass a strong child nutrition bill that provides more options to get food to kids that need our help by providing flexibility in operating the Summer Food Service Program and streamlining program requirements for providers that operate both afterschool and summer meal programs.
  4.  Be sure to dial back in and speak with both of your senators and your representative.

Double your impact by sending an email