Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Keep the Conversation Going: A Place at the Table

Kaela and friends
Kaela Volkmer (middle) is a member of St. Wenceslaus Catholic parish in Omaha, Neb. She is pictured here with St. Wenceslaus staff. (Photo courtesy of Kaela Volkmer)

By Kaela Volkmer

On Sept. 19, as members of the House of Representatives were debating how much funding to cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), I had the good fortune to be in a place of positive energy, care, concern, and compassion for our hungry and vulnerable neighbors. In Omaha, Neb., about 300 concerned citizens gathered at Aksarben Cinema for a special free screening of A Place at the Table, a powerful new documentary related to hunger, health, and poverty. 

Through support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Active Voice, Hunger Free Heartland, whose mission is to end childhood hunger and obesity in our greater community, was able to mobilize an amazing team of coalition partners to host a wonderful event.  The evening included a resource fair, a reception, and a thought-provoking panel discussion following the viewing of this critically-acclaimed film. 

As a Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader, I was humbled and privileged to be part of this collaborative effort to keep the conversation going in our community about hunger, health and public policy. Here are some of the highlights of the event:

  • Sue Arment, director of Hunger Free Heartland, pulled together and guided a strong and resourceful planning team comprised of various community partners for the event.
  • Andrea Barstow, manager of Aksarben Cinema, graciously donated the theater and reception space for our gathering.
  • Lucy Wilson of Edible Omaha moderated our panel, and her personal story of what it felt like being a child who knew the pangs of hunger touched our hearts and inspired us.
  • Our expert panel included Lauren and John Levy of the Heart Ministry Center, John Bailey from the Center for Rural Affairs, Sen. Sara Howard, and Craig Howell from United Methodist Ministries. The panelists helped us to reflect on different aspects of the film, from personal experiences to public policy considerations, and they helped us think about steps we can take to be part of the solution.
  • Whole Foods donated an amazing amount of delicious and healthy food for the public reception. 
  • More than 15 community organizations were represented at the resource fair before and after the film, offering information about how citizens can get involved in concrete actions related to hunger and poverty issues in our community.

It truly was an inspiring evening that brought us together to learn, to share, and to talk about the role we all share in contributing to the multi-faceted solutions that will bring about an end to hunger in our community.

While at the event, I received the message confirming that the House of Representatives had just voted to cut an unthinkable $39 billion from SNAP.  I took a deep breath and felt a deep sadness and sorrow in my heart, knowing that such actions will only increase poverty, hunger, and suffering in our state and in our nation. I thought about the nearly 4 million food insecure people in our country who would lose nutrition assistance under this scenario, including 2 million low-income working families and seniors. And then I looked up at the hundreds of people who showed up for the screening and the staffers from organizations who are working tirelessly with and for our most vulnerable neighbors. My heart swelled with gratitude for their presence, for their willingness to ask questions and find solutions to the scandal of hunger and deprivation that confronts more than 49 million people in our country.

As a Bread for the World Hunger Justice leader and advocate for poor and hungry people, I am deeply grateful to have been part of this event and to stand together with others who are working to create a place at the table for all people.

Kaela Volkmer is a 2012 Hunger Justice Leader who lives in Omaha, Neb.

 

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