Elevating the Voices at the Heart of Our Work

At Empower Missouri, our goal is to empower Missourians to end poverty and make our state a better and more equitable place to be. We strive to include people from communities across the state in everything we do; their voices are at the heart of our work. For the food security coalition specifically, that means including food pantries and food banks who understand the food system, and including individuals who face food insecurity everyday. 

This commitment is similar to many other organizations that address food insecurity across our nation, including Feeding America. This past year, Feeding America highlighted the importance of centering the voices of people with lived experience in a report called Elevating Voices: Insights Report 2023. This report mirrors what we at Empower Missouri (and specifically the Food Security Coalition) are striving to do every day.

To complete this report, Feeding America solicited data from individuals across the country. They first conducted a national survey of over 1,100 adults who have experienced food insecurity. Additionally, Feeding America held an Elevating Voices: Power Summit which brought together individuals with lived experience of food insecurity to “to hear from, learn from and forge communities with each other and to share their informed views directly with federal policymakers”. 

The stories and ideas that were shared in the survey and during the gathering were powerful examples and ideas of what we can do to end food insecurity in our country. A few highlights of the report that resonate with Empower Missouri were:

Prioritizing Dignity 

Kimberly Harris from Washington D.C. stated, “A lot of times, you feel like you’re not even a human. You’re just a number to them.”

As advocates, we work to ensure that when individuals need help they are served with dignity and respect and receive the help quickly. 

We do this by advocating for adequate levels of staffing at agencies that administer benefit programs. Increased staffing ensures workers are not overwhelmed and overworked, so that they have an appropriate caseload and can better focus on each client and their specific needs. 

Expanding Opportunity and Increasing Access

Tiffany Turner from Washington State said simply, “It shouldn’t be that hard to feed the people of America.”

The rising cost of food, housing and utilities coupled with low paying jobs has increased food insecurity exponentially over the last few years. Over 67% of those surveyed said it was the increase in food prices and high inflation that has contributed to their food insecurity. 

As advocates, we need to approach food insecurity in a comprehensive and intersectional way; not just by funding nutrition safety nets, but also investing in affordable housing, job training, health care coverage and childcare. Our policy priorities include increasing funding for state employment and training programs, expanding the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, and investing in affordable housing across the country. 

Improving Health

Darren Brown of Texas said, “It’s the stress of your mind going and going thinking, ‘How can I provide for them?’ I’m insecure not knowing if I’m able to perform my job effectively if I’m not eating as well. Food insecurities make your body like that.”

Survey participants said over and over again that working to improve access to food is important, but more important is improving access to nutritious food. A whopping 93% agreed that “Food is Medicine”, and you will feel better physically, emotionally and mentally if you have regular access to healthy food. Many stated that they want to eat healthier because they understand the importance of good nutrition on their and their families’ overall health, but can’t afford to right now.

It is important for advocates to understand the connection between health and nutrition. Advocating for ways to make fresh, nutritious food more affordable and accessible is a top priority for advocates. We encourage policy makers to increase support for produce prescription initiatives and ‘Double Up Food Bucks’ programs, which are both important ways to increase access to fresh healthy food for our most vulnerable neighbors. 

As Feeding America said, food insecurity is complex, but at Empower Missouri we are committed to working with our neighbors to end hunger and create a healthier community. We hope you will join us in our efforts. To join our Food Security Coalition or to share your story please visit our Food Security Coalition webpage.

Leave a Reply