It’s not too long ago that we put the year 2020 behind us. It was a year full of major world-shifting events as our country and Missourians faced one of the most unexpected and devastating global pandemics in more than 100 years. To date, the airborne virus also known as “Covid-19,” has killed millions across the world and has left many families fighting to survive.
We can all say that 2020 wasn’t normal at all, but one of the last “normal” things I did in the beginning of 2020 was take my annual trip to Washington DC. for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference sponsored by The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). It is surreal to think about how different everything in my life is today compared to how it was just a year ago. This is also true for this conference. FRAC held their 2021 Annual Policy Conference just last week, and I can honestly say pretty much everything about it was different.
Obviously the first difference, as with everything this past year, was that it was held in a virtual format. I did not get to fly on a plane, take an Uber, or meet up with my friends who live in D.C. Additionally, in previous years, the conference registered about 1000 people, which is one of the biggest conferences I had ever attended. Because of the virtual format this year, more than 4000 individuals were able to attend, including my intern (her reflection from the conference is below). The cost to travel to and stay in D.C. always made bringing my interns along impossible. However this year, she was able to attend and listen to and learn from some of the most renowned experts on federal nutrition policy.
For me, the biggest difference I felt was not something that was tangible or quantifiable but the difference in tone and feel to this conference compared to many of the other previous conferences.
The panelists highlighted food security and nutrition issues in the United States, which we know were made worse by the deadly pandemic. However, the speakers believed 2021 would be a year of us moving forward on issues related to SNAP, child nutrition and food accessibility. Every panelist, every moderator, and every keynote speaker spoke with a sense of hope. Even in the midst of this pandemic, there was a sense of hope for the possibility of change. Everyone was optimistic about where we were heading and excited about new possibilities. There was a sense that change was coming:
- Changes made within important safety net programs
- Changes in the openness and frankness with which racism and equity were discussed.
- Changes in our ability to help low income families all across our country.
We all may have been far apart physically but there was a sense of connection, purpose and drive to move our nation forward. I look forward to working alongside those 4000+ plus advocates this year to see what we can accomplish! If you want to join me, you can start by getting involved with Empower Missouri’s Food Security Coalition.
Christine Woody, MSW
Senior Policy and Organizing Coordinator
A note from Empower Missouri’s Intern, Scarlett O’Shaughnessy
As a social work student intern at Empower Missouri, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Food Research and Action Center Conference this year. This year, it was done in a virtual format which allowed me to easily access these workshops online. This experience allowed me to gain insight from experts all over the U.S. on food security issues. Attending FRAC’s entry-level (Advocacy 101) sessions provided simplified information on federally funded food and nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Pandemic EBT, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and other programs that help provide essential assistance to those struggling to put food on the table. These foundational workshops also explained processes such as budget planning which clarified how financial resources are allocated each year to these programs. This information was broken down in ways that were very helpful to me, as a college student, entering the field of policy advocacy.
During the rest of my time attending The FRAC Conference, I was also able to attend sessions that discussed the lack of diversity and the inequity that exists in food access and policy research. One of the workshops that stood out to me was We are not “Something Else”: Food Access and Security in Native American Communities. Speakers Valerie Segrest and Janie Simms Hipp shared both personal and professional experience on fighting hunger in communities of Indigenous people. These women spoke about the damaging impacts these communities face by being referred to as “something else” on national media. This highlighted how failures to be inclusive in data collection on food research can result in failures to address the basic needs of entire communities. This concept relates to a variety of disadvantaged populations facing hunger in the U.S. every day at disproportionate rates. FRAC emphasized the need for these inequities to be addressed, and ways to take action towards injustices happening involving food access.
Attending the FRAC Conference this year was a great opportunity to learn more about food security and policy research. I appreciated this experience as a way to further my knowledge for my future in social work and advocacy!
Empower Missouri Intern