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Northwest Harvest

Broadening Our View on Food Security For Washington Families

Recently our friends at Northwest Harvest hosted a couple of partners (WithinReach, King County Public Health) and Congressman Adam Smith for a visit at the Cherry Street Food Bank. As I walked up the street to meet the team, I was once again reminded of the people who are struggling to make ends meet and the critical role that both food banks and food stamps play in addressing  an array of food resources which can help families both in the short- and long-term be “food secure.”  The line stretched around the block and Shelley Rotondo, Executive Director at NW Harvest, commented that while this was the middle of the month, they often see long lines similar to the lines they used to see only at the end of the month when people ran out of money.

A couple of things stood out for me during the visit with Congressman Smith.  First, he led off with saying that he believes in government programs and knows they can make a difference. I was really struck by this statement because so much of the rhetoric we hear out of Congress is about the need to shrink government. It was refreshing to hear that he had a fundamental belief in the role of government plays in providing programs that serve the most vulnerable in our communities.   Yet, I am also a realist and know that does not necessarily mean funding these programs in heated budget debates is a sure thing. I think it is bold, these days, to profess your support of government because it sometimes feels like it is easier or maybe even popular to criticize government programs.  To hear an elected official reflect the realities of the day-to-day struggles of his constituents was inspiring.

While we were at the food bank, a client named Wayne came up to us and said “Thank you for providing this support. I’m doing my best to get back on my feet, but I couldn’t do it without this support. I’m trying really hard to be disciplined. Thank you.”  We all stood there sort of stunned, his gratitude was amazing. It once again reminds me of the real people behind the statistics and numbers about the food insecure; the people who are trying to get back on their feet, support their families, and become self sufficient. Programs like SNAP and local food banks are important supports to making this a reality.

Northwest Harvest is the only non-profit food bank distributor operating statewide in Washington with a network of more than 350 food banks, meal programs and high-need schools. They provide more than 1.7 million meals every month to this network. Even with this expansive reach, NW Harvest efforts across the state represent only 1/24 of what government spends on emergency food. There is literally no plausible way that we can feed all the hungry families in our state without the help of government.  I often talk about the “the new normal,” the basic premise being that we need to think creatively and collaboratively as to how to how to address our communities most complex issues and how all government, nonprofits and private/corporate philanthropy must work together to advance the economic vitality of our state.

Our food access work is no different, we need to work hand-in -hand with our partners in government, nonprofit and private organizations to make significant change. We want to build on the work Northwest Harvest has done and that is why our advocacy message to Congressman Smith and the rest of the Washington Delegation is focused on the preservation of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps). The House Republican leaders proposed a bill that cuts $40 billion dollars over the next 10 years from SNAP, a cut that would be devastating to families across the state who rely on food stamps to augment what they receive at food banks in order to feed their families. If you are interested in more information or want to know how you can take action to protect SNAP, check out these resources:

•    Anti Hunger and Nutrition Coalition
•    Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
•    Food Research and Action Council

Tags: Food banks   food insecurity   food stamps   Northwest Harvest   SNAP   

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