Are We Still Fighting Hunger?

I recently attended the Closing The Hunger Gap conference in Tacoma, WA—the third gathering of its kind.  Their purpose is to inspire food banks and their communities to move beyond handing out food to make a deeper impact on the underlying issues.   If you’ve been around Metro Caring over the last few years, you’ve seen us move in this direction.  In fact, now well into my fourth year here at Metro Caring, I’ve never been more excited about our strategic approach, our leadership and staff, our willingness to re-evaluate who we are and how we’re doing things, and our openness to innovation.

I’d like to profile one inspiring group that I met at the conference that are doing some fantastic work.

Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC) are a leader in transitioning food pantries and hunger relief agencies into being “forces for change.”  Born out of an organization called 'The Stop Community Food Centre' in Toronto, CFC is changing the conversation through public education, outreach and engagement activities about “health, equity, inclusion, and solidarity, and how [they] can work together to build a future where access to healthy food is a basic right.”

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I was drawn to a couple of specific ideas from their organization. 

One concept is affordable food markets—a small retail outlet model that allows shoppers to maintain agency over their health, and provides an option for those who avoid food pantries due to logistics or stigma. More cities are supporting this idea with creative sources of funding and in turn, revenue-generation. 

At Metro Caring we are exploring new approaches to procurement as we seek out specific oft-requested healthy foods while at the same time paying attention to places like CRC who fundraise and budget for more healthy food purchases.

CRC also prioritizes civic engagement in their model.  This includes everything from community organizing to robust referral services.  Their membership-style community advocacy office empowers members with lived experience of poverty and other forms of marginalization to help fellow members struggling with similar issues.  I was struck by how much voice those who were impacted by the issues had in changing the outcomes for their community, and I’m excited to look for more ways to include our participants as volunteers and as leaders.

Below are the best practice ideas they and others laid out that are really moving the needle:

  • Position food banks and food programs as public health institutions.
  • Build local food systems and community economies. 
  • Grow our capacity as community organizers and social justice advocates.  
  • Collaborate for clients: Wrap-around services. 
  • Advocate for policy and funding conditions that support community food security. 

Each of these led me to think more. Metro Caring continues to look for more ways to partner with traditional public health institutions, but have we considered ourselves one?  What would that mean? Metro Caring knows the importance of advocating for policies and programs that benefit the people we serve by working with our state’s Blueprint for Food and Agriculture, the Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger, and local food policy council; with community organizing and better collaboration, we could do more to engage participants and community members in impacting change.

How can we mobilize to become a bigger force? What ideas do you have? Share them with me at [email protected].

Reuben Gregory is the Sustainability and Strategic Partnerships Coordinator for Metro Caring. He holds the record for most coffee consumed from the Denver Bicycle Cafe. 
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