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EMPOWERING ADVOCATES

Jul 1, 2022 | Newsletter

By Anne Lee

For generations, my husband’s family ran a dairy farm in Broome County. But a few years ago, we just couldn’t make ends meet with that anymore.  When the dairy prices were very low and had been for a while, we had to choose between paying bills or having sides to feed our children with dinner. We have five kids, ranging in age from eight to 17. We are fortunate to always have meat because of the farm, but we had no money to buy anything else. We didn’t have any money to do anything for Christmas that year, either. My friend’s mom volunteered at the Food Bank’s Mobile Food Pantry in Richford, and told me, “Hey, you should go down there and get some food.”

At first, I thought to myself, no way. As farmers we tend to be proud people—we’re the ones that are supposed to be helping others, not people helping us. But it was to the point of having to get help; we needed it. I went to the food distribution, and it was so much easier than I thought it would be. Everybody was so incredibly friendly and kind. They were thanking me for taking the food, and I was thanking them for giving it to me. They also gave me so much information about food resources in my area, and I was happy to be able to give back and spend some time volunteering there, too.

The biggest misconception people have about hunger is that it couldn’t happen to you. In a million years, I’d never thought that I would need help to feed my family. But the Food Bank is here for a reason; and, as my mother said, “You take a helping hand when you need it and give back when you don’t.” We were always helpers. And I know that there will be a time when we’re not going to need help anymore and we’re going to be able to help other people.
I joined the Food Bank’s Community Advocates Program this year, and it has been such a wonderful experience for me. The program participants, and the co-leader, all have lived expertise of food insecurity and financial hardship. The program’s activities include public policy discussions, media training, and engaging our friends and families to share ideas to strengthen food support services. In this program, I formed such strong bonds with other Southern Tier residents and developed my voice to be an advocate for community empowerment.

We ended up selling our dairy cows to open a custom butcher shop instead. Farmers like us might not have monetary funds to donate, but we would love to share meat products with our local pantries. I am passionate about changing policies and systems to make this possible. America is experiencing a supply-chain issue and our neighbors are experiencing hunger; meanwhile, the way to solve this is right in our backyard.

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