Developing strategies to end hunger

Public-Private Partnerships and the 2014 Hunger Report

As part of my work on the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, I traveled to several parts of the country to talk with people about how they and their communities are fighting hunger. I wrote a chapter for the report based on community-level anti-hunger initiatives.

I believe it’s impossible to end hunger without strong community support. This doesn’t mean that a community eschews government assistance—on the contrary, government programs are often the foundation on which local initiatives are based.

“Communities” are based less on geographical boundaries than on common interests. Some of the communities I visited were small towns and cities. In one case, it was an entire state (Arkansas)—the governor was leading the effort. While government involvement isn’t always necessary, leadership is essential. Someone has to want to make it his or her issue and be willing to put in the effort to get others to see that it is their issue too.

I’ve always been curious about why in some communities, nearly 100 percent of all those eligible for food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) are participating in the program, while other places may not even get to 50 percent participation. It seems clear that it has a lot to do with whether the community supports the program and wants to make it easy, or at least less cumbersome, for people who need assistance to get it. Stigma is a powerful countervailing force that keeps many people from reaching out for help. A supportive community will try to reduce that stigma.

It’s one thing to encourage people to take advantage of the assistance they qualify for. But how do communities come to realize and accept that it is the government, not charities, that is the main source of nutrition assistance and must therefore be the main focus of anti-hunger advocacy?

Indianapolis is one example of how a community learned how to fight hunger more effectively. Dave Miner, a former board chair of Bread for the World, leads the Indy Hunger Network (IHN) in Indianapolis. Dave and his wife Robin collected information on all the major sources of food assistance in the city and produced a simple pie chart so that anyone can visualize where Indianapolis’ food assistance comes from. The chart is reproduced below. As it shows, federal nutrition programs accounted for more than 90 percent of the food assistance in Indianapolis in 2012, with SNAP alone making up 73 percent.

Indy Hunger NetworkIndianapolis is not an anomaly when it comes to the amount of work the federal nutrition programs are doing to end hunger. When people think about food assistance in their community, the images that come to mind are people providing food to their neighbors, children collecting canned goods for a food drive at their school, the food pantry in a church basement, a soup kitchen for homeless people. A government program does not seem the same as a neighbor, but the fact is that’s where most hunger relief comes from.

Indianapolis has set a goal of ensuring that by 2015, all people who are hungry will be able to get the nutritious food they need.  To realize this goal, contributions are needed from both public and private programs. SNAP can fill some of the meal gap, but it cannot do it all. Research by the food bank network Feeding America indicates that 42 percent of the food-insecure people in the Indianapolis region have incomes too high to be eligible for federal nutrition programs. This means that their only sources of food assistance are private charities.

The pie chart has galvanized support for the contributions that SNAP, WIC, school meals, and other federal nutrition programs make toward achieving the goal of being hunger free. Having the pie chart there to look at also makes it easier for people who might not otherwise be inclined to pick up the phone to call their member of Congress or visit the member’s local office to advocate for these programs, and to persuade their friends and family to do so as well.

There are countless examples of locally led initiatives that are achieving great success in their communities. At their core, these initiatives are formed around the belief that to end hunger at the community level, a broad range of stakeholders must unite behind a common vision and strategy. Community ownership is critical to achieving sustainable solutions to hunger. Partnerships at the local level, and those between local initiatives and state and federal government, build that ownership. Todd Post


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