Collective Impact: Solving Hunger and Increasing Opportunity
While the number of Americans facing food insecurity has grown steadily in recent decades, the recent recession and unemployment crisis drove an increase that hasn’t been seen since the 1930s. The families who lost their jobs, their savings and retirement funds, their homes, are still trying to get back on their feet. Despite visible improvements in our economy, the number of people experiencing hunger continues to hold steady at some of the highest rates ever recorded. Today, 49 million people are food-insecure.
Hunger is truly a crisis in America. The number families affected demonstrates the need for our nation to change our approach to solving the hunger. Providing food for immediate relief is critical, but it is not enough. If we truly aim to achieve our vision of a hunger-free America, we must provide people with more food, but we also must find ways to address the root causes of hunger and improve long-term food security for low-income Americans.
Hunger is a complex issue that cannot be solved by charities like Feeding America alone. By engaging partners across the business, nonprofit, and government sectors, I believe we can help people build a path out of poverty and achieve more stable livesstability that promotes self-sufficiency and opportunity.
The first step to improving stability and thus fostering opportunity is recognizing that hunger does not exist in isolation. When people visit food pantries, they are not only struggling to put food on the table, they are also struggling to pay for rent, utilities, childcare and medical bills. Three priority needs of the people we serve include housing, health, and employment or income.
To improve food insecurity we must increase access to nutritious meals and disrupt the cycle of spending trade-offs that perpetuate instability. Consequently, to truly solve hunger, we must work together with multi-sector organizations to help address all of these basic needs, holistically.
For example, if a food pantry client also struggles to manage their diabetes, we would not only provide diet-specific foods but also connect that person to a healthcare organization that can help them manage their disease. If a pantry client is struggling to find a job, we should provide that person with food and also connect him or her to a local employment agency or job training organization that can provide resources and skills training they need to find stable employment.
Solutions to complex problems can be more effectively derived when organizations actively coordinate their actions to achieve the same goal. Together, multi-sector partners can generate collective impact by more comprehensively addressing the variety of needs of low-income families to help them achieve stability.
This year, we will select five communities served by Feeding America member food banks to build community processes designed to help families build a path out of hunger. Through community needs assessments, setting outcomes, leveraging local partnerships and standardizing measurements for success, we can collectively increase stability and opportunity for low-income residents.
Food is a basic need. Food insecurity is an enormous barrier to proper child development, work and school performance, health and wellness. However, it۪s just one among many basic needs that affect a person۪s ability to meet their potential.
By taking a collective impact approach and engaging entire communities, we address poverty and hunger holistically. Working together, we can improve the long-term stability of the people we serve and help ensure that everyone regardless of their economic circumstances has the chance at a future filled with hope and possibility.
Maura Daly is chief external affairs officer at Feeding America.
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