My friend, Sunny Schaefer invited me to tour Operation Food Search, as she cleverly put it: “You’ve traveled across the country to learn about food security and haven’t visited the hunger relief in your own neighborhood.” Off I went to tour Operation Food Search…and left amazed, awed, intrigued and perplexed.
Sunny introduced me to several staff members, all interesting and engaging. Gary, works with the No Kid Hungry program which finds and supports sites across the city to provide nutritious lunches to children once a day during the summer. Gary manages the deluge of paperwork that the USDA requires so that people serving the food can focus on feeding children.
The warehouse was orderly providing easy access to the volunteers from local food pantries, (currently around 220) who show up to gather food for their clients. Sunny explained how the warehouse is organized and seeing the stacks of food waiting to be delivered was exciting. All I could think about were the hands that had touched those products so far in their journey to place it into hands of hungry people.
Operation Backback purchases food to send home with children on free lunches so they can have nutrious meals over the weekend.
After we toured, Sunny invited the OFS Strategic Director, Lucinda Perry to have a conversation with us. Several topics of interest that percolated during our time together was the massive muscle of manufacturers in food choices. Many times large grocers are fingered as those who aid the national obesity, malnutrition and poor eating practices in America’s homes. But it is the major manufacturers (e.g. Nestle) who make the decision as to what is available in the store. Nestle had more than $100 billion in sales and more than $11 billion in profits in 2013. Imagine that amount of money supporting the health of the people eating their products!
One of Lucinda’s current projects is to deepen the sense of advocacy for the nation’s hungry. It’s one thing to bring a can of food to work for a food drive, but how do you broaden the perspective so that people are motivated to act, make decisions, reach out and care for the hungry people in our city?
This question stirred me to step by from my desire to teach others how to grow, prepare and enjoy real food to a bigger stage…one that causes a change in culture, of attitudes, of motivation. Sunny shared an interesting quote. In the 1940’s, FDR said we at War against Poverty. Now, we are at War against those who are in Poverty. Sadly, I could understand exactly her point…impoverished people can be considered to have brought this on themselves. This approach views the situation as hopeless for both sides: poor people don’t know how to help themselves, those with means believe they could help themselves.
Surely awareness as a necessary first step but then what? Relating her past experience at the State of Massachusetts, gaining the attention of the youth is how to make the biggest impact. We agreed that youth usually aren’t hardened by “it’s the way it’s always been” nor are they willing to stand for atrocities that could be solved. Social justice matters to most younger people.
Suggesting that starting with churches already established seemed like a natural avenue for me. After the Food and Faith Seminar at Eden, I see churches as a people group interested in compassion and care for others.
Weeks later, I’m still noodling this important and immense topic…how do we create a greater sense of advocacy for people who are hungry?
Lucinda had articulated the intertwining of access and education to real food, neither can stand alone. One thing we can all do (here in St Louis anyway) during the month of July is to participate in Tomato Explosion. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
It's July...time to find a good restaurant and try their tomatoes!