Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Changing the Politics of Hunger, One Direct-Service Organization at a Time

111004_capitalareafoodbankMembers and friends of the Capital Area Food Bank, the largest nonprofit hunger and nutrition education resources in Washington, DC. From Left to Right: Leslie Van Horn, Excecutive Director of Virginia Federation of Food Banks; Lynn Brantley, CEO of Capital Area Food Bank; Congressman James Moran (D-VA); Brian D. Banks, Director of Public Policy and Community Outreach.

Food banks. Food pantries. Soup kitchens. Advocacy. One of these things is not like the others—or is it?

If you ask the staff and volunteers at the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB), advocacy now goes hand-in-hand with direct-service work. CAFB is the largest, nonprofit hunger and nutrition education resource in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. In addition to supplying more than 32 million pounds of food to communities across the region each year, CAFB’s mission has grown to include educating, empowering, and enlightening the community about the issues of hunger and nutrition. Now, CAFB is also taking the needs of the community directly to decision makers through strategic, targeted advocacy—and encouraging partner organizations and community activists to do the same.

I interviewed Brian Banks, director of public policy and community outreach at CAFB, for this month’s Breadcast. We discussed the work that CAFB does to urge lawmakers to pay attention to hunger in their communities and use their influence to make a difference. Listen to the full interview below.

On Friday, September 30, the Capital Area Food Bank hosted the Northern Virginia Hunger Summit to help area food providers find their voice. This all-day event featured workshops and discussions to equip attendees with the tools needed to reach out to decision makers and make a difference in the lives of the people they serve. They learned the importance of establishing relationships with legislators, as well as strategies for developing policy plans and ways to incorporate lobbying into their organizational mission.

As Rev. David Beckmann puts it, “We cannot food bank our way out of hunger”—meaning that food banks and other charity organizations cannot be held solely responsible for ending hunger. With this in mind, Bread for the World is not a direct-service organization, though we urge lawmakers to end hunger. While we do not directly serve hungry and poor people from a charity standpoint, we recognize and appreciate the importance of organizations that are serving people who are hungry and poor today—people who are struggling to figure out what to feed their families for dinner and don’t have time to wait on Congress to determine the fate of their government assistance programs.

Direct-service organizations have a powerful voice as they help many families bridge the gap between going hungry and getting by. They see first-hand what the needs are in their communities. Often times, direct-service organizations help people understand their rights to and qualifications for various government assistance programs, and even teach them how to use assistance programs to make healthy, sustainable food decisions for their families. Taking a cue from the Capital Area Food Bank, I hope more direct-service organizations will be encouraged to take this holistic approach to ending hunger and use their voices to change legislation that renders people hungry and poor.


Kristen Youngblood is media relations specialist at Bread for the World.


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