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Oakland Welcomes the National Commission on Hunger

July 16, 2015

By Sarah Palmer
CAFB Policy Associate

As the Policy Associate for the California Association of Food Banks, I see how state and federal laws impact the lives of everyday people. I understand how important it is for front-line advocates and program recipients to talk directly to policymakers about programs and coalitions—like the Alliance to Transform CalFresh—that are making a difference. That’s why I was excited when advocates from California and other western states gathered blocks from our CAFB office on June 15 to be part of a hearing before the newly formed National Commission on Hunger.

The bipartisan National Commission on Hunger is charged with finding innovative methods to help low-income Americans escape the cycle of food insecurity. It was an honor that the Commission decided to hold the hearing in Oakland, and as someone who works on programs to help connect people in need with healthy food, I was heartened that the Commission had the chance to hear from advocates who either shared their first-hand knowledge of poverty and hunger, their professional perspective, or both.

My testimony during the morning session certainly contained both perspectives. I shared my personal story as a recipient of CalFresh and WIC. In my capacity working with CAFB, I know that every day, six million Californians face hunger or the fear of going hungry. During my testimony, I was able to make recommendations for improvements to programs, and I asked the Commission to consider the higher level equity questions that we cannot forget as we continue this work.

Others from our statewide membership organization and many anti-hunger partners spoke about key areas to monitor as we work together on the big, important picture of how to support food security for families:

  • Andy Souza, Executive Director of Community Food Bank of Fresno, spoke movingly about rural poverty and institutional responsibility. His co-presenter, Willy Elliott-McCrea (Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz) discussed the importance of maintaining health and nutrition programs and shared his organization’s successful Heath Ambassador Program model.
  • Kim McCoy Wade, Alliance to Transform CalFresh Consultant, testified to the power of data-driven strategies used to inform policy. She describes CalFresh as the most important line of defense against hunger and shared strategies to improve both the client experience and programmatic efficiency.
  • Tia Shimada, California Food Policy Advocates Managing Nutrition Policy Advocate, highlighted the essential discussion of childhood nutrition in the state of California and made connections between childhood nutrition and long-term outcomes.
  • Jessica Bartholow, Western Center on Law and Poverty, shared her own account of food insecurity as a child and young adult and the story of her family’s struggle navigating the PTSD of her father, a Vietnam veteran. Jessica praised the programs that would eventually help her, and made broad policy recommendations.

While the morning session was a success, what was even more inspiring was the public comment period in the afternoon. Community member after community member shared personal stories of hardship and repeated hardship, as well as hardship and success. Individuals pleaded for help and called on the Commission to hear them and to continue to protect and improve our nation’s social safety net.

We left the hearing space with a renewed sense of purpose, with the big picture front and center in our hearts and minds. I will be closely following the findings and recommendations that result from these hearings being held by the National Hunger Commission as I continue to work each week on programs, such as the Alliance to Transform CalFresh, that support effective approaches to fighting hunger.

Hunger Commission

Pictured in this photo from the National Commission on Hunger’s June 15th hearing in Oakland are: Shanti Prasad, Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) Community Mobilization Coordinator; Keisha Nzewi, ACCFB Advocacy Manager; Andrea, Community Advocate; and Jessica Bartholow, Legislative Advocate Western Center on Law and Poverty.


Hunger Commission pic 2

Those who attended the National Commission on Hunger’s hearing held in Oakland left with a renewed sense of purpose, with the big picture front and center in hearts and minds. Pictured here are Jonetta, Community Advocate, and her daughter.

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