Washington DC- With thanks to the Essex County Community Foundation, 5 representatives from three local organizations in the North Shore Hunger Network were able to add their voices to the 700 antipolicy advocates that descended on Washington D.C. in late February to attend the Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. The Three days were jam-packed with workshops including such topics as “Best Practices of SNAP (Food Stamp) Outreach” , “Making Summer Meals Happen”, " Keeping Hunger in the Public Eye", "Child Nutrition and Wellness", and "Strategic Partnerships and Coalitions for Effective Advocacy". The five North Shore advocates were busy learning and neworking from morning till night, until day three culminated in visits to their local representatives’ offices Senator Scott Brown, Senator John Kerry, and Congressman John Tierney.
The North Shore Hunger Network is a collaboration of 25 local agencies committed to hunger-relief in north shore Massachusetts communities. NSHN partners attending the FRAC conference were Beverly Bootstraps (Beverly), Haven From Hunger (Peabody) which attended for the first time and The Open Door (Gloucester). Executive director of The Open Door, Julie LaFontaine, credits the 10 years of attendance at the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference for helping to expand and deepen the programs offered at The Open Door.
Throughout the weekend in-depth timely discussions on the potential cuts to the 2012 Farm Bill were stressed. Proposed cuts include funding for SNAP (food stamps), and cuts to USDA Commodities that supply nutritious food to many food banks and local emergency providers. “Our mission at The Open Door is to connect people to good food,” says Julie LaFontaine and emphasized how critical it is to talk to local representatives about real needs for these services as they contemplate the 2012 Farm Bill and next year’s budget cuts. “We know that 80% of our clients are already on SNAP, and come to the Food Pantry every month when their SNAP benefits run out,” said Julie. “Low-income families are already feeling the pinch and struggle to put food on their tables even with the $4 a day that SNAP provides. Cuts to these basic services will lead to more hunger, put more stress on families, and further strain resources to hunger-relief agencies in the North Shore Hunger Network. We are already stretched.”
In 2011, The Open Door, like many members of the North Shore Hunger Network, saw a 23 percent increase in the number of requests for food assistance. Haven From Hunger saw a 35 percent increase, and in the last three years Beverly Bootstraps and The Open Door have seen a record 30 percent jump and have worked hard to both maintain and meet that need. Cuts last year to the federally funded TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) meant that for many agencies there were no USDA-funded commodities on the shelves of food banks and food pantries. For six weeks pantry shelves at The Open Door were empty of USDA-funded peanut butter and tuna fish, a basic protein-source that many clients rely on to make a nutritionally balanced meal. This short-fall in supply had to be made up through local food drives and local funding.
For NSHN advocate Alyse Barbash who has just completed her first year as executive director of Haven From Hunger (HFH) “going to Washington helped me change not just my small day-to-day world, but showed me how to work collectively to make a difference for everyone, not just Haven From Hunger.”
Since going to Washington and taking FRAC’s Summer Lunch workshop, Alyse has taken the lessons learned and expanded HFH’s Summer Lunch sites from two to seven and expects to serve about 700 meals--up from 200 a year ago. “I learned a lot about what’s available including the Summer Lunch and After School Meals program.” Now after focusing her attentions on Summer Lunch, Alyse hopes to look into providing some after-school meals. Going to the FRAC conference “really helped me step up my game in terms of program development and advocacy,” said Alyse.
NSHN advocate Sue Gabriel from Beverly Bootstraps said “knowing that our clients must focus on their day-to-day basic needs creates an incentive for us to advocate, many times on their behalf, for legislation and funding that will assist them. Going to FRAC helped our NSHN advocates connect with others so together we can advocate for funding and effective programming to alleviate hunger in all our communities.”
Capitol Hill visits by the North Shore Hunger Network put local representatives in touch with the real-life stories of hunger that exist here in the North Shore in Beverly, Essex, Gloucester, Ipswich, Manchester, Peabody and Rockport. They heard of the NSHN client “James” that finally managed to find a job after almost six months of unemployment, 3 months less the average amount of time some one is on SNAP (Feeding America). He was able to survive thanks to the safety net that SNAP and the food pantry provided him. Because of those face-to-face visits on Capitol Hill, supported by the Essex County Community Foundation, less than a week later, Congressman John Tierney gave testimony on the house floor to the importance of SNAP and TEFAP funding for our most vulnerable North Shore residents and clients of the North Shore Hunger Network.
If you would like to review the FRAC Conference materials and presentations, they are posted as PDF's on the FRAC web site here: http://www.antihungerpolicyconference.org/workshop-presentations