Community Voices Matter

Late this spring, the White House announced plans for a Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The conference date has been announced!

The Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health will be held on Wednesday, September 28th and will be live-streamed. The last conference of this kind was over 50 years ago, making this an important opportunity to assess our nation’s food policy, build upon the strengths and correct weaknesses of existing programs, and chart a path to ending hunger. During the conference, the Biden-Harris Administration will release a National Strategy with actions the federal government will take to end hunger by 2030 and catalyze the public and private sectors to address the intersections between hunger, nutrition, and health. 

To prepare for the Conference, the White House asked for input from people across the country – particularly people with lived experiences of hunger and poverty – to help inform a nationwide strategy to end hunger. Philabundance’s Government Affairs Team spent the summer working to ensure that the voices of our community members are heard. We conducted one-on-one interviews and group listening sessions, gathering feedback from nearly 40 community members, and submitted what we learned to the White House and Feeding America. We spoke with people who turn to food pantries for help, pantry staff, and volunteers, all of whom shared their perspectives and had valuable insights about the tremendous challenges and resilience they and their communities face.  

During the interviews and listening sessions, we asked participants to share their experiences with hunger, what barriers to food security affect their communities, and what they and their communities need to not just survive but to thrive. Common themes throughout these conversations included: the painful impact of the pandemic and inflation, the importance of dignity and respect in assistance programs, and feelings that the government may help people get just enough to survive but not enough to move ahead. Participants shared their thoughts on the need for higher wages; more opportunities for education and employment; more availability of and lower prices for fresh produce; an already high and growing need for affordable housing; access to health care; and higher benefit amounts and expanded eligibility for nutrition programs. Many participants were seniors and people with disabilities, and they spoke of the need for easier access to nutritious food. Overall, participants emphasized the need for support that truly allows them to take their futures into their own hands.  

Community members also spoke about the impossible choices they are forced to make between food and other basic needs, especially recently due to inflation and the rising cost of living. We heard about their sacrifices and trade-offs, including: 

“I’m paying my bills and I can’t even afford to buy food. Things are so expensive. I’m just barely making it.” 

“You try to weigh it out – I need to get my medicine, and I need to get food. You’re weighing a lot of things based on what is important. Your medicine’s important because you need that for your health and wellbeing…but also, you need the food for that same reason! So it’s really been hard.”

“I go to the food pantry once a week. I used to go twice a week…but I can’t afford to go with the gas prices and I can’t get the bus to go there. Now I go once a week and I’m very grateful for that. It’s very good and I’m very grateful but it’s not enough.” 

We are so grateful to everyone who took the time to speak with us about their experiences, insights, and recommendations. Based on the feedback we received, we summarized common themes, highlighted key insights, provided policy recommendations, and submitted a comment to the White House. You can read the full comment here.

Philabundance will continue to share the insights we learned from these interviews, and seek out new ways to amplify community voices in our advocacy work.

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