Hashtagging Hunger

Jeremy Arnold
October 17, 2016

The Child Hunger Corps is a national service program designed to increase the capacity and capability of food banks to execute programs targeted towards the alleviation of child hunger. The objective of the program is to increase the number of nutritious snacks and meals served to children in need in local communities around the country. The Child Hunger Corps initiative is sponsored by the ConAgra Foods Foundation.

In August 2016, the sixth cohort of ten new Corps members were placed at Feeding America member food banks, bringing the current total to 40 Child Hunger Corps members working at food banks across the country. This post is by sixth cohort member Jeremy Arnold, Child Hunger Corps member at Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in Harrisburg, PA.

Since beginning at Central Pennsylvania Food Bank as a Feeding America Child Hunger Corps member, I have discovered just how dynamic the fight against hunger is. Despite previous involvement, addressing hunger in America was something I needed to learn much more about. So I sought information. Feeding America and a half dozen other organizations have provided a deluge of information. Social media has become one of the main ways I access this information. I, for one, thrive off of the articles that fill my feeds, and I'm certainly guilty of creating my own opining, preachy posts on these platforms. Social media has proven to be an effective way to make change, too. It is a tool that is invaluable if you know how to use it, and that is playing out in the fight to end hunger as well. One thing I struggle with, though, is the #hashtag. There's apparently an art to hashtagging: consider the aesthetic, the readability, the humor, the trendiness. Though I might be clueless when it comes to the best hashtags, I understand that they help mark and start conversations. So, here are some #conversations about #hunger I would like to see #more of:

1. #BeyondTheVote

The political environment, especially this year, is oversimplified to be about the person sitting in the Oval Office. To a broader degree, government engagement is also often oversimplified to be just about voting. Don't get me wrong – voting is incredibly important and certainly a civic duty, but it is a shame and a misnomer to think that we have to wait around two to six years for the next election in order to influence our government. Making a real change in the fight to end hunger does not only happen at the national level. At every level of government, it is vital to have well-informed officials making policies that may directly affect hunger in America, and that is a gap that must be filled beyond Election Day. Ending hunger takes the commitment of the entire village: government, businesses, charities and citizens. It is a job of the hunger fighter to keep our village informed and its leaders accountable. Write letters and make phone calls to your representatives, leverage the attention of local media, engage community leaders and find other ways to get involved with the cause to end hunger. In the end, take action by voting and then staying active in the process as things like local consumer taxes, state hunger fighting legislation and initiatives, and federal program legislation are being considered.

2. #SNAPchat

SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, is one of the federal government’s anti-hunger programs. Many people don't fully understand SNAP, so let's start chats about it. I could drone on and on about the facts of this program – the $1.71 economic return per $1 invested, the resulting increases in holistic health and wellness, the overwhelming benefit of SNAP to households with children – but info many people need to know is that SNAP is available to help them.

Nationally, about 17 percent of people eligible for a SNAP hand-up do not take advantage of the program, which means they are likely not getting the food they and their families need. Even with SNAP assistance, many families still rely on charitable food sources to help make ends meet. It will be a huge step in ending hunger in America if we can connect these eligible but unserved individuals and families with the resources available to help them. It's not about increasing the number of people utilizing government assistance; it is entirely about making sure the system is working for people who need it the most. Part of this comes with spreading awareness and understanding of the benefits and lives changed by SNAP. Part of this comes from making it easier to apply for those with language, transportation, time and ability barriers. And part of this comes from fighting the stigma that there is something inherently wrong with asking for this type of help when 1 in 7 of your neighbors do the same. And that leads me to my final soapbox.

3. #MeToo

Hunger happens. To some, it happens chronically, meaning there is a significant worry that they do not know where their next meal, or maybe next week's meals, will come from. An estimated 42 million Americans are at risk of going hungry, especially without the assistance of federal programs and charitable food sources like those of the Feeding America network. The story that needs to be told, though, is that there should be no shame in asking for help when tough times hit. And tough times do hit. It happened to me. My mother received assistance when I was a kid, too young to really realize what this meant. It happened to me again. I was 17, living with my grandma, and money was weird because she was sick. I went to a food pantry a couple times with my head down because we just needed a little extra food – pasta, canned veggies and chicken, dried beans, and Gatorade. I was ashamed then. I turned my efforts to running food drives at my school, leading volunteer groups to a local food shelter, and covering up any trace that someone would think that I, of all people, needed help. Had I known that sometimes smart, well-mannered, hard-working 17 year olds have to ask for help, that hunger doesn't look or behave like anyone in particular, maybe I could have held my head a little higher. Maybe others could have done the same. It is important to de-sensationalize hunger. Hunger happens, and it happened to me, too.

So these may not be the most trend-worthy hashtags, but if we want to talk about hunger, let's talk about it in meaningful ways – and there are certainly ways not mentioned here. Let's use our tools, whether that means social media or conversations at a barbecue, to change the way hunger is seen and to encourage action from all our citizens, both in office and not. Hunger in America is a problem, but it can be addressed by statistics and research and policies and stories and hashtags.


Tags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , Hunger in Your Community , Pennsylvania , Central Pennsylvania Food Bank

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