Politics Aside: A Fight We Can All Get Behind

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November 6, 2019 By: Allison O'Toole Category: SHH News

I recently returned from a two-day trip to Washington, D.C. to talk to members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation about appropriations to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and improvements to the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) bill. In other words, I was there to advocate for federal funding to help feed the 1 in 11 Minnesota families who experience hunger.

These two pieces of legislation are vital to supporting the work we do here at Second Harvest Heartland. TEFAP, a major federal nutrition program,  provides Second Harvest Heartland with millions of pounds of food each year, helping us meet the needs of Minnesota families experiencing hunger. Getting this food to those who need it can be expensive for food banks like ours, and increased TEFAP appropriations would help offset our storage and distribution costs to minimize this burden.

CNR, on the other hand, is updated every five years, and this bill authorizes eight different child nutrition programs that provide funding for low-income kids to get access to nutritious food. These programs include school lunch and breakfast, summer meals, after-school meals and backpack programs, and more—it’s a pretty big deal.

Millions of children across the United States (including about 222,000 kids in Minnesota) lack consistent access to the federal nutrition programs that are vital to feeding them. One of our key priorities is increasing access to food in the summer months, where only 23% of Minnesota children who participate in free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program participate in the Summer Food Service Program. Congress has an opportunity to close the meal gap by including smart, effective improvements in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. These policy changes would allow flexibility for off-site meal consumption and streamline summer meal sites to ensure more children facing hunger receive adequate daily nutrition, no matter the time of year.

I was thinking about these 222,000 children from our state when I boarded a plane in Minneapolis early last Monday morning. I have to confess that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in Washington. But I felt confident I would meet people as passionate about solving hunger as I am.

I was not disappointed.

If anything can bring together people from across party lines, it’s the future of our country—our children.

In the current hyper-partisan climate, it was so refreshing to meet with people from all sides of the political spectrum who care deeply about our country’s hard-working families and are dedicated to helping the 1 in 8 Minnesota children who experience hunger.

I was deeply inspired by the other hunger fighters in the Feeding America network who came to rally for the cause. I was also encouraged by Senator Tina Smith, and staff members from the offices of Senator Amy Klobuchar, Congresswoman Betty McCollum and Congressman Tom Emmer. I bumped into Congresswoman McCollum at the airport baggage claim carousal, proving that you can make important connections anywhere if you keep your eyes open!  

I am so very thankful for the conversations I had with these smart, hardworking individuals. With all the competing issues they have on their plates, I was surprised and delighted to discover that everyone I met was knowledgeable about hunger relief.  These legislators represent only a small sample of the Minnesota leaders I’ve gotten to meet and work with since I joined Second Harvest Heartland, all of whom realize how dire the situation is for the families who struggle every day to make ends meet, often just one health emergency or car repair away from needing food assistance.

Yet education and awareness can only take us so far—which is why I encourage you to reach out to your own elected official, whether it’s a city councilmember, state representative or senator, or even your members of congress (flight to D.C. not required!) to tell them why local hunger-relief matters to you and your community. As we ramp up our hunger-relief efforts this holiday season, we invite you to go a step further by joining us for a volunteer shift, helping to pack food for the half a million people we serve each year.

I left Minneapolis feeling hopeful and returned knowing we are  more supported than ever by the vast network of lawmakers, partners, and volunteers who make this work possible. It’s easy to explain why our efforts matter, no matter who I’m talking to—but now it’s time for us all to get to work and put those words into action!

  - Allison O'Toole, CEO, Second Harvest Heartland 

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