A few years ago, at the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington D.C., Food Bankers leaned in as an advocate asked a panel of food-insecure people what agencies could do to really learn what kind of help food-insecure people need. “You ask them,” a panelist said flatly.
It was a “no duh” moment that stunned the audience for a moment before raucous applause filled the room. And Food Bankers have been leaning into that message ever since.
While client-driven services have long been central to the Food Bank’s work, new momentum is enabling faster progress.
“All this momentum is coalescing,” says Randi Quackenbush, Director of Community Impact. “We’ve been working toward this for seven years, and it’s finally happening.”
The Food Bank started the Speakers Bureau program in 2016 to give clients a forum to share their stories of poverty and food insecurity. Now, that program is evolving into Community Advocates training and will create more opportunities to bring people who have experienced hunger and food insecurity into the decision-making processes of hunger relief.
The Food Bank has received national attention for direct work with clients, but Randi says there’s more work to do. “We can do so much more to incorporate clients into our decision-making process.”
To that end, Randi and Lyndsey Lyman, Advocacy and Education Manager, are creating programs to foster equity and inclusion in client outreach and food distribution, address implicit bias in services, and offer avenues for partners to engage directly with Community Advocates.
“We’re going to be doing more work to help people with lived experience know that they can be leaders in their communities,” Randi says.
Lyndsey says, “Also, many neighbors in need simply aren’t getting information on where to go for help with food.”
“Many feel they don’t qualify for assistance; that they aren’t ‘needy enough’,” Randi adds. “We are working on new strategies to let them know they are deserving of help and that we have enough for all.”