Contributed by Victoria Dinov, New Voters Communications Intern
Overview of Hunger in Our Communities
Hunger is everywhere in our communities, more prevalent than you might expect. According to the Department of Agriculture’s Household Food Insecurity in the United States report, 37.2 million people living in the United States faced food insecurity in 2018. The report also found that 2.7 million households with children experienced food insecurity in 2018. As COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our society, it has also drastically increased these totals. The national report released by Feeding America in late March 2020 showed that the number of people experiencing food insecurity could rise by 17.1 million in the coming year. A similar Feeding America report specific to child hunger found that 18 million children would be in danger of facing food insecurity as a result of the rising unemployment rates and the corresponding rise in child poverty. Many communities in the country today are experiencing some form of food insecurity, which makes Feeding America’s mission all the more important.
What Feeding America Plans To Do
Feeding America is a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that works to provide nutritious food and services to people facing hunger. Through the goal of providing meals to every hungry American, Feeding America has sought to engage people and communities to end hunger nationwide. Recently, Feeding America’s has expanded its reach and taken on a new mission: bringing awareness to the problem of hunger and translating this awareness into action in the 2020 election. Their 2016 plan, Vote to End Hunger, forged a nonpartisan coalition aiming to use that year’s to lay the groundwork for a new set of policies aiming to end hunger by 2030. This cycle, the plan has been adapted to empower people to learn about hunger, while also empowering the people Feeding America serves to vote.
Advocacy Manager Danny Navarro coordinates Feeding America’s 2020 voter engagement projects. This push to empower individuals to eliminate America’s hunger through voting is partly due to the impact COVID-19 has had on our nation: increasing food insecurity, leading many more people to the food bank. As Navarro said in an interview with New Voters intern Victoria Dinov on June 25th, 2020, “The issue of food insecurity is no longer a secret,” and hunger is an issue that many Americans now have either experienced or witnessed in their own communities. Feeding America has now taken charge to educate the public on the issue of hunger, explain the importance of combating hunger, and finally vote on the issue of hunger.
To advance the goals of supporting the people they serve in the voting process, Feeding America has sought to create partnerships with voter engagement organizations. One of their main partnerships is with Nonprofit Vote, which will be providing Feeding America with technical expertise and coordination of voting drives on the state level. Navarro explained that individuals who come to the food banks are first signed up for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that provides benefits to over 37 million low-income Americans to assist with their monthly grocery payments. The voter engagement partnerships’ work kicks in as people in line during distribution are asked if they are registered to vote. Those who are not registered are directed to a table staffed by the voter engagement organizations, who then explain the voting and registration processes. According to Navarro, this method of outreach is beneficial because it allows Feeding America to partner with civic organizations that “focus on voter engagement [to] allow [Feeding America’s] food banks to continue their primary mission of feeding their local communities while at the same time providing the people [they] serve with the information necessary to register to vote.”
One of Feeding America’s goals for the project is uplifting youth voices and increasing youth voters’ awareness of hunger and its impact on communities. Feeding America sees this time, which has brought increased levels of hunger and poverty in America, as an opportunity to motivate people to vote, thus indirectly helping themselves by supporting increased federal and state funding to fight hunger at the ballot box. The message that voters can advance funding for hunger issues is crucial to communicate as food insecurity skyrockets in the wake of current events. “This year, anti-hunger may not crack the top 10 list of most important issues to voters,” said Navarro, “and voters might not vote on the issue of hunger … itself, but we hope to successfully educate the public on the problem and the available solutions they can advocate for.” This messaging will not only create voting awareness among people relying on the food bank for resources, but also increase hunger awareness among already established voters. As Navarro highlighted, “State and local elections are crucial.” These elections garner more awareness around the issues and can allow local politicians to lead actions as simple as not closing schools in the summer that feed kids or funding mobile distributions that feed people.
Though there is not yet a specific bill on the 2020 general election ballot regarding increased funding to fight hunger, the next iteration of the Farm Bill, coming in 2021, will have measures combating food insecurity folded into it. “Everyone is dealing with the issue of food insecurity in one way or another,” Navarro said. “People will be voting on the issue of hunger for many years to come.”
Barriers to People Experiencing Hunger Voting
Many barriers depress voter turnout among people experiencing hunger. One first of these is the lack of attention paid to them. Unfortunately, hungry people are not common voters; they are often focused on where their next meal will come from. This lack of voting is then reinforced by many political campaigns that do not reach out to inconsistent voters. This decision on the part of the politicians then results in a lack of information about where and how to vote being provided to those who are food insecure. The cycle of hunger and limited civic engagement is thus repeated when politicians put less effort into engaging these constituents: People experiencing food insecurity are limited in their ability to vote on issues relating to their own hunger, so policies dealing with these issues that are passed by elected officials are not always reflective of all American citizens’ needs. As such, there is an overall distrust in the system and its ability to truly benefit the people.
Feeding America has the chance to reach out to the people they serve and change these dynamics so people feel they can make a difference in their communities, and in their own lives. “Using the language of helping build up communities and providing a sense of social and economic security, Feeding America aims to show all Americans how impactful these organizations and policies really are,” Navarro reinforced. Stemming from the increased sense of community many people have experienced since COVID-19, Feeding America hopes to boost this new morale of “helping fellow neighbors” to help solve the problem of food insecurity for the future.
What You Can Do
The first step is to educate yourself on the issue of hunger. The problem is not going away any time soon. As Navarro put it, “Young voters must speak out on the issues of hunger in America through the ballot box if they wish to see impactful changes. Speaking out now will have a long-term impact on the future.” As with many other social justice movements, the end goal seems far away. However, advocating for people experiencing hunger in your community now will push legislators and politicians to recognize the importance of this issue for the American people.
The next step is for young voters to create a wave surrounding hunger awareness. This means asking the candidates and legislators about hunger issues to simply give voice to them. Many legislators want to duck away from this issue because of skepticism surrounding the roots of hunger, but if we raise our voices, they will be forced to face the issue head-on. Using phone calls, snail mail, and email are just a few of the ways to grab the attention of our politicians. You can even organize phonebanks or text banks with peers to create a massive outreach platform.
To get involved even more, start volunteering. Due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, many of the regular food bank volunteers have dispersed, leaving more hungry people waiting in line for food with fewer people to distribute and organize it. You can sign up to volunteer at Feeding America’s website.
Why Hunger Should Matter to Voters
As COVID-19 has shown us, hunger is a major American issue. As Navarro says, “What would our society be if we were to be a society where we let our fellow brothers and sisters go hungry — knowing that we could help them but still letting them go hungry?” Accepting that norm would be an indictment of our society. The goal of Feeding America’s voter engagement work is to help all Americans have a say in the policies that will potentially put meals on the table for themselves and their families. Navarro put it best: “We need everyone to wake up and realize the importance of these programs. Everyone, regardless of political party, can agree to that.”