You Have a Role – Advocacy

Every day you and I actively participate in advocacy, influencing and shaping how we live life. Whether you’re trying to convince your friends and family to go to Chipotle over Qdoba, or you are leading a community or work project, your individual values and life goals influence how you lead and make decisions for yourself and others. You may not realize it, but you’re already an advocate.

At its heart, advocacy seeks to change the game and reconfigure the dynamics to improve a situation by engaging with community agents and decision and policy makers.

At Feed the Children, we pursue advocacy initiatives that drive us toward our mission to ensure that no child or family goes to bed hungry.

The great thing about advocacy is that anyone and everyone can play a role. You don’t have to be a lobbyist or policy maker to influence legislation or systems that affect child nutrition or foreign assistance. In fact, every time you cast a vote for an elected official or you educate your community on an issue you care about, you act as an advocate.

Advocacy by nature engages systems – schools, governments, organizations and companies. An issue as severe as hunger requires every facet of the community to be involved to formulate a solution that addresses the root cause.

advocacy march
Image credit: Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com

Feed the Children is only one part of the solution to ending hunger. By incorporating advocacy into our work, we collaborate internally and externally to bring together everyone – children and families vulnerable to food insecurity, governors, members of Congress, church leaders and volunteers – all to inform an improved local and national response to hunger and poverty.

As a value-driven organization, Feed the Children has the unique opportunity to carry out its vision by elevating the voices of children and families we serve to influence positive change and to help break the systemic cycle of poverty in their local communities. And you can be a part of this vision.  

A great way to begin participating in advocacy is to find your own, individual identity in the issue of hunger. Whether you, a family member or friend at one point were vulnerable to hunger and poverty, or you know of a community anti-hunger organization, it is important for us to be familiar with the stories and nature of hunger in our own community. Once we better understand how hunger impacts our own lives, then can we take the next step to tell the stories of struggle, hope and courage to our community and to key decision makers.

Stories are a powerful tool to influence change, especially on hunger. You can leverage and harness those stories to influence a passionate response to providing more nutritious meals for kids who struggle with hunger in the summer. You can influence how your member of Congress and Governor protect our nation’s number one defense against hunger – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). You can educate your schools, faith communities and friends on SNAP in their area and how it serves the most needy.

These are just a few examples of how you can join Feed the Children in addressing the root cause of hunger and poverty through advocacy.

Straight Talk About Hunger in America

Today, we’re beginning a series of blog posts highlighting issues you’ve raised in your answers to the question, “What Would Jesus Undo?

Denise Sawyer is the woman behind the blog Wholesome Mommy. She’s a former teacher raising her family in rural Georgia, where grocery stores are few and far between and where many of her friends and neighbors are struggling to make ends meet. We spoke with Denise over the phone recently about her ongoing series, “Oh SNAP! Real Food on a Food Stamps Budget” in which she is spending 6 months learning to shop and cook healthy meals on a food stamp budget. The resources she has developed are phenomenal — she creates menu plans, shopping lists, and recipes for people on tight budgets with limited access to ingredients. And her mission is get these resources to as many people as possible, all without asking for a single dime in compensation for all her work.

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We asked her to watch Michael Boggs’ new single, “What Would Jesus Undo?” and write a post about how she would answer the question. Here’s an excerpt of her response, Undo Hunger:

This is such a timely post for me. I just received a message on my facebook page from a single mother who said she has just found herself in a situation where she needed SNAP to feed herself and her two children.  She said, “I just received my EBT card in the mail and still feel embarrassed for even needing them.”  Why does she feel embarrassed?  Well, most of us would feel similarly, we all have pride we have to overcome and realizing and then having to ask for help is a humbling experience.  But honestly, its something more, its the way you are looked at in the store, the snide comments made about “those people,” and the facebook posts that we post without thinking about the REAL people in these situations.   I just saw one today.  And actually, it was posted by not one, but two of my friends, who have judged others for needing SNAP benefits.  It was a picture to two refrigerators – one brimming with food labeled as someone “with no job and welfare,” and one empty but for a single item, labeled as “hard working tax payer.”

Read her entire post in full here. (And don’t forget to get your free download of Michael Boggs’ new song!)

Forget WWJD. This Might Be More Important.

It was quite the catch-phrase in its heyday. “What would Jesus do?” appeared everywhere – wristbands, coffee cups, t-shirts, tchotchkes, and more. It was supposed to remind people of faith (or so the story went) to ask themselves what Jesus would do in any given situation and do that, rather than what the person would do.

share what you would undo 1

Michael Boggs is a Dove-award-winning contemporary Christian musician formerly of FFH. He told Feed the Children it was in a conversation with a friend that he realized it. “What would Jesus do” does not get all the way into the heart of how Christians ought to look at the world and live their lives. He asked himself, “What would Jesus UNdo?” That question forced him to confront the pain and brokenness in the world – things like hunger, poverty, abuse, disease, and hopelessness. Michael says he believes that Jesus came to undo them. But not only that, he also believes that Jesus calls his followers to join him in the undoing. This is the inspiration for Boggs’ newest single by the same name: “What Would Jesus Undo?” In collaboration with Feed the Children, he is offering FREE downloads of the single for a limited time. Will you help spread the word about the free download and encourage your friends and family to join? Share this post on Facebook to invite your friends and family to join. Tweet it with the hashtag #WWJU. Post an Instagram of yourself with a sign showing what you would undo, and make sure you include #wwju in your caption! All photos tagged #wwju will appear in the photo stream below.

What do you think Jesus would undo? Tell us in the comments, and include how you think you might help undo it, too.

Feed the Children Goes to Washington

One of the most exciting new developments in the past year for Feed the Children has been the opening of a new office in Washington DC. Joining the ranks of its non-profit counterparts, Feed the Children created a government relations team to be a voice in Washington and to represent the millions of children and families we serve. Most of all we see the work of this team as the group to lead the charge into advocacy.

“Advocacy” means many things. At Feed the Children, advocacy educates, elevates conversations and promotes policies to address the systemic issue of hunger and poverty. We seek to be a voice for the voiceless. We seek to partner with governmental agencies already engaged in similar work both in the US and around the world.

US flag on building

Lobbying, or directly speaking to policy makers, is only one function of advocacy and is practiced by the two members of our advocacy team as well as myself and members of the executive team.

Bottom line—Feed the Children is and ALWAYS will be a non-partisan organization. We only take positions on specific issues that impact the communities we serve on a case-by-case basis. As a charity organization, we can’t make donations to any political party or endorse a candidate for public office.

In the last several months, we have built some very solid relationships with the Administration and members of Congress (on both sides of the political spectrum).  We have significantly raised our profile, not only with government officials, but also with our nonprofit counterparts.  It has given us a seat at the proverbial table and we have been widely welcomed.

food voucher

A day in the life of our team in Washington is different every day—often driven by the legislative schedule and the needs of our programing offices at any given time.

Most recently, our team pounded the pavement working to protect the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), America’s largest and most effective hunger relief program. Recently, the House of Representatives voted $40 billion in cuts to the SNAP program but must be approved by the Senate and signed by the President to be signed into law. So the fight is not over. We are now encouraging members of the House and Senate to come up with a compromise bill that will reform SNAP while protecting the most vulnerable of our society.   This is only one example of advocacy in action.

Additionally, our staff in Washington also works to reduce roadblocks. For example, gifts in kind donations have been freed in international customs because of the work of our D.C. team. They’ve also been in conversation with the US Department of State and Embassies to handle other international operational issues that affect our ability to serve more children.  And of course, they fundraise too!  They are busy researching international grants and domestic program grants that can increase our impact through federal funding.

In addressing hunger in the US and around the world, the situation we are faced with is that even if we quadrupled our revenue and service, Feed the Children couldn’t begin to solve the child hunger problem alone. The problem has to be addressed in partnership with those who work in Washington among many others. And, Feed the Children is glad to be here in Washington—especially during seasons like this one.

When Hard Times Come for American Families

When hard times come, we could all use a little safety net. We could all use a little help knowing that we won’t have to make the choice between keeping a roof over our heads and feeding our children. We could all use a little encouragement knowing that we aren’t alone—even if we feel this way.

Through our Americans Feeding Americans campaign, Feed the Children is doing just this for countless families who have fallen on hard times.

In December, our big trucks rolled through the rural South Georgia town of Sylvania, the county seat of Screven County (population 15,000). Screven ranks among the poorest counties in the state with at least 33% of its residents living below the poverty line. Sylvania is a forgotten town which took a big hit 20 years ago when all the major factories closed their doors and took most of the county’s jobs with them. With jobs not readily available for parents, one in three children here are at risk of going hungry on a daily basis.

It seemed like a perfect place for Feed the Children to lend a hand up of support—donating food and essential care products to over 800 households.

In Sylvania, we met a family who couldn’t help but say thank you and thank you over and over for what our assistance meant to them.

Daniel, the father, had recently lost his job. Though he’s looking regularly for work, so far he hasn’t found even a minimum wage paying job to help support his wife, Jennifer and three children: Tessa, 9, Tye, 6 and Lilly, 4.

If the job loss wasn’t hard enough to manage, Daniel shared that his aging and sick father recently moved in with them.

“Sometimes,” the mom, Jennifer says, “I really worry about how we are going to pay the bills and make sure that there is food in the pantry.”

Though they get assistance from the government through unemployment and SNAP benefits, “It’s just not enough to feed a family of six.”

Such is why the presence of the Feed the Children distribution coordinated through a partner agency in town was such a blessing.  It was encouragement and a little boost to a family seeking to make it but just needing someone to help remind them that others are cheering them on.

As the family vehicle (in desperate need of repairs itself) pulled way from the distribution site, Daniel rolled down the windows of his truck and said, “Please tell everyone at Feed the Children thank you again. We will eat well tonight.”

Feed the Children’s American Feeding Americans—it’s what being a good neighbor is all about… one family at a time.

Ten Simple Ways To Help Children in 2014

The numbers are overwhelmingOne in five American households with children were unable to put adequate food on the table at times during the year. One in eight people around the world regularly do not get enough food to live an active life. These numbers represent precious human lives and millions of children who lack what they need to reach their potential.

If you find yourself looking at these numbers, concluding that the problem is too big, and turning away, you aren’t alone. But just for today, don’t. Sit with it for a minute. Then know this: Hunger is a big problem both in the United States and around the world, but you can help.

We asked our staff to suggest simple things that ordinary people could do to help, not to feel better about ourselves but to truly make life better for the people around us who are going without.

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You will also find many great ideas for schools, Girl and Boy Scout troops, churches, and more on our Special Projects page. If you need help putting a fundraising project together, we have a team standing by with experience and resources to make your project a success. Learn more and fill out the project application to get started!

We know you have some fantastic ideas, so share your ideas in the comments. Throughout this year, we will feature some of you and the ways you are making a difference every day. If you’re on Pinterest, pin your ideas to our board!

Top-Ten-01
Submitted by Robin Wood
Give your time (Four hours a week would be a tithe if you work a typical full time job) to serve a local rescue mission or food bank.

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Submitted by Jayme Cloninger
Leverage your skills in accounting, graphic design, business, etc., at your local community anti-hunger organization.

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Submitted by Tony Forrest
Sponsor a child in a developing country through Feed the Children. If you have them, involve your own children by sending letters and pictures to the sponsored child.

Top-Ten-04
Submitted by Tom Davis and Jayme Cloninger
Track your grocery and other food costs for one week. Then take the Food Stamp Challenge, living on $4/day/person for your food, and donate the money that you save that week to a local food bank. If you can’t make it on $4/day, spend more, but commit to donating the same amount you would have given otherwise plus the amount that you went over the limit.

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Submitted by Tamara Johnston and Justin Shumaker
Go in with your coworkers on a purchase from the FTC gift catalog.

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Submitted by Trevor Moe
Tell your member of Congress that together we can end hunger, and ask them to make a commitment to end child hunger. Call 1-800-826-3688 or find contact forms for your elected official here.

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Submitted by Jayme Cloninger
Host a movie night in your workplace, faith community or school to show a documentary on hunger (e.g., A Place at the Table). Follow up with discussions and brainstorming about what your group can do together to help.

Top-Ten-08
Submitted by Jayme Cloninger
We recommend (e.g., Closing the Food Gap, When Helping Hurts, A Place at the Table, and Beyond the Food Drive). What books do you recommend?

Top-Ten-09
Submitted by Kristen Mills and Minna Suh
Even if you don’t normally use cash, select certain purchases to pay for with cash this year. Save all the change (or, for an extra challenge, save your singles too). You will be AMAZED at how quickly this adds up.

Top-Ten-10
Submitted by Hogan Thomas
Workplace activities are fun! Participants pay a small fee that you donate to a local charity. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • sell 15-minute naps
  • host a game tournament (players pay a fee to participate)
  • allow employees to pay to take their dog to work
  • host a cook-off or bake-off (people pay to sample and vote),
  • host a Pay To Wear a Hat Day or a Wildest Tie or Most Outlandish Earring contest (entrants pay a fee)

From Donor to Dinner: How We Feed American Children

It’s easy to claim we provide tens of millions of meals to children each year. It sounds simple – your gift of $20 a month provides $100 worth of food and essentials to children in need.

But making that happen requires generous donors, hard work, and people who are determined that no child or family should go to bed hungry.

girl with lasagna

Today, we’ll take a tour behind the scenes at how Feed the Children makes good on that claim.

Our story begins with three donations:

Mary’s $20 enables Feed the Children to purchase the discounted spaghetti sauce from Ragu or send a truck for the entire eight skids . Next month, her $20 donation sends sauce to food banks in Ohio and Florida.

volunteer with pallet and truck

Mary’s donation and others like hers are multiplied by Marcus’s donation of time.

When product donations and purchases arrive in the distribution center, Marcus spends his donated hours unpacking the pallets, adding essential items like shampoo, spaghetti sauce, and toilet paper to hundreds of boxes, and loading filled boxes onto trucks bound for community partners like the Salvation Army in downtown Cleveland.

Twenty-five thousand volunteers like Marcus donate their time, both in Oklahoma City with our headquarters and around the country, saving Feed the Children distribution center costs.

Dozens of corporations like Ragu and CVS donate products or sell them for pennies, allowing Feed the Children to send essentials to more people in need.

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Thousands of donors like Mary send cash, multiplying all the other contributions as Feed the Children transforms money into food and essentials with the help of volunteers and corporations.

The relationships Feed the Children has with donors like Mary and companies like Ragu transform her $20 into $100 in food and essentials. And relationships with agency partners like the Salvation Army and local food banks places food and essentials into the hands of hungry children and families in the most effective way possible.

Providing millions of meals to children each year requires many people working together, united with one vision – that no child or family goes to bed hungry.

How will you help? We’re always looking for donors, volunteers, and corporate partners who share our mission.

Join Us for a Day of Action

On November 1, 200 million meals were removed from the tables of hungry Americans as cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) took effect.

On December 4, Feed the Children and other organizations are standing to say “enough.”

Contrary to the giving spirit of the season, Congress is now considering a Farm Bill which will bring even more drastic cuts to our nation’s number one emergency response to hunger. These harsh cuts would weaken our nutrition safety net and push the boundary of food insecurity for a staggering number of Americans — including children — who don’t know where their next meal will come from.

jefferson memorial congress

Organizations like Feed the Children, while efficient and innovative, can’t feed everyone. SNAP and other federal nutrition programs deliver 23 times the amount of food assistance that private charities can deliver.

Is government always the answer? Of course not. But sometimes, non-government organizations need help. Food banks are stretched as demand has increased nearly 50% since 2006. And 34% of Americans now admit they have cut back on donations to churches and houses of worship. It’s a plain fact: federal programs play a crucial role in the fight against hunger.

Chief Marketing Officer Corey Gordon, Chief Executive Officer Kevin Hagan, and government relations staffers Jayme Cloninger and Trevor Moe visited Congress earlier this year to advocate for sensible reforms to SNAP.
Chief Marketing Officer Corey Gordon, Chief Executive Officer Kevin Hagan, and government relations staffers Jayme Cloninger and Trevor Moe visited Congress earlier this year to advocate for sensible reforms to SNAP.

Feed the Children believes the private and public sectors must join together in this time of severe need. To that end, we are working with members of Congress to protect SNAP while improving its efficiency and effectiveness.

These next few days on Capitol Hill will be critical for 47 million Americans who utilize SNAP to put food on the table.

And you can help.

  • Contact your members of Congress at 1-800-826-3688. Not sure what to say? Here’s a place to start: As a constituent, I have strong concerns about the Farm Bill in Congress. I urge you to protect SNAP from more cuts. I understand the need to reduce the deficit, but increasing hunger is not the way to do it.

Here are some more ideas you can share with your members of Congress:

    • I urge you to protect SNAP from additional harmful cuts.
    • Cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bill will make it even more difficult for 4 to 6 million Americans to put food on their table.
    • The proposed cuts to SNAP will have the greatest impact on children and seniors.
  • Share this post with your social network, friends, and family and encourage them to join The Day of Action, too.

Further cuts to SNAP could be devastating. But it isn’t too late. Right now, at the start of this season of giving, you have the power to affect how Congress treats America’s hungriest people.

Will we allow more food to be taken from children who need it most, or will we make our voice heard?

Jayme Cloninger is Manager of Public Policy at Feed the Children.

A New Day At Feed the Children

It’s an honor for me to be a part of the Feed the Children team at a time like this.

We are feeding more kids in more schools than we did at this time last year.

We are growing our reach to serve more children and families in both our domestic and international programs.

The enthusiasm and talent of our dedicated staff grows each month that I get the opportunity to get to know them better.

I am a proud CEO.

But when I look ahead to what’s next for Feed the Children, four key initiatives come to mind. All four are underway today. 

1.    We are revamping domestic programs to build self-sufficiency.

Unlike our international programming, where Feed the Children adopts a community and develops a plan to bring it to self-sufficiency through our four-pillar approach, our domestic operations have largely centered upon emergency food programs through partner agencies and disaster relief. But this is changing. On this new day at Feed the Children, we want to be known as a US agency that digs deep and stays long in communities where children need us the most.

Soon we will begin after-school and summer feeding programs in several cities. We will also continue to strengthen our educational programming such as our backpack program for homeless students, but expand the efforts to include more collaborative work with local educators and school administrators.

Children from our school in Kenya
Children from our school in Kenya

2.    We are renewing our emphasis on child sponsorship.

In the past, Feed the Children asked donors to give $10 or $15 when they could, but we rarely asked for a longer term, more relational commitment to our mission. But this is a new day. Child sponsorship can connect those we serve with those who give to help support our mission. We believe in child sponsorship and are excited about growing this program because we feel our unique model works.

When you give $30 a month to sponsor a child through Feed the Children, the funds you give goes to the community in which your sponsored child lives. We do not create a system of “haves and have-nots” in which some of the children in the village are sponsored, receiving new uniforms and shiny pencils, and others are not. When you sponsor a child in a Feed the Children program, the entire community benefits from your monthly donation through clean water, nutritious food, healthcare and education.

3.    We are launching a new Feed the Children brand.

As has been the pattern with many in the non-profit sector, Feed the Children has kept to itself and done its own thing. It’s a new day, and we’ve stopped to examine ourselves, the problems we’re trying to address, and how we’ve been approaching them. Every day we are more convinced that going it alone is completely inadequate in the face of systemic poverty and hunger.

Today, we reject isolationism. We are actively seeking to partner with other non-profits working in the same area. For the first time in our history, we joined Interaction, the largest convener group of NGOs in the United States. This was a great first step. But a single step towards working together isn’t enough. We must make sure that our actions match our call to collaborate.

Soon we will launch our new brand and logo. The new visual identity and voice will better tell the story of the new Feed the Children. The needs of children around the world are great, and we can’t do this work alone. Be watching for some big changes in our look and tone of voice soon!

4.    We are focusing on internal and external customer service.

Customer service is an area in which most organizations of any size can improve. We are no different. We want everyone who comes in contact with us to feel seen, appreciated and valued, whether they receive some of our services, donate products or cash, volunteer, or work as an employee. We know that we need to do better.

Maya Angelou has said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I believe this is 100% true. If we are not being kind and hospitable human beings to one another in the process of feeding the bodies and nourishing the souls of one another, then what are we doing?

I’ll share even more with you about this area of focus later.

In the meantime, thanks for following and supporting our journey here at Feed the Children. We are glad to have you as part of our global family.

Kevin Hagan is the President and Chief Executive Officer for Feed the Children.