VOICES: A new direction after nearly four decades of food relief

When food insecurity took center stage during the pandemic, some dubbed hunger “the new pandemic.” Indeed, we saw concerning increases in demand of up to 40% at the onset of the pandemic, and at a recent Thanksgiving food distribution we served a record-breaking 1,700 households.

But food insecurity is not a new pandemic — it has been endemic in our community for generations. Even prior to COVID-19, Feeding America estimated that 13.7% of individuals in the Miami Valley were food insecure in 2019, compared to 10.9% in the country overall. Notably, this estimate does not take into account the devastating impact of the Memorial Day tornado outbreak that year.

Similar to COVID long-haulers, we know that many families will experience lingering financial effects of the pandemic. An October 2021 report found that nearly 20% of American households wiped out their entire savings during the pandemic, making them more vulnerable to future emergencies.

At The Foodbank, we provide food to a network of 98 hunger relief agencies in Montgomery, Greene, and Preble counties. Last year, we distributed over 17 million pounds of food. But to address these issues of food insecurity, we must invest in community-level solutions that look to root causes, which we know will not be solved with food alone.

In keeping with this understanding, we are embarking on a new strategic plan in July centered on a new mission, “eliminating hunger and its root causes.” We will continue this work in tandem with our food distribution services, which are still vital to our community.

When we discuss issues of food justice, it is critical that we specifically address the way that poverty, food, and racial inequity intersect. Countless research has shown that people of color face markedly higher rates of food insecurity than their white peers. Feeding America has estimated that over 24% of Black households experienced food insecurity in 2020.

We cannot speak authentically about these issues without calling attention to the impact that slavery, the genocide of indigenous communities, and the legacy of systemic discrimination has had on many of the neighbors we serve.

Our organization belongs to the people in our lines. Therefore, we have a responsibility to have conversations about race and other critical topics even when it threatens our own comfort and our relationships with those in power.

In preparation for this new strategic direction, our team has undertaken trainings at the highest level nationally, especially in the topics of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Collectively, our team has participated in over 1,000 hours of training, and members of our staff participate in opportunities including the John Hopkins Racial Equity and Economic Justice Cohort and Feeding America’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Board.

When we discuss the long-standing impact of food insecurity, we run the risk of falling into hopelessness. But over the course of the pandemic, the tornadoes, and everything else our community has withstood, we have seen time and time again the strength and resilience of our area. With our partnerships, including our current Valley Food Relief campaign, we hope we will see fewer and fewer people who need our services in the coming years.

We are grateful for our partnership with the Dayton Daily News, who supports this campaign. 100% of funds donated to Valley Food Relief support our food purchase program, which is a critical supplement to the donated product we receive. These funds go to purchasing food such as frozen protein, fresh vegetables, special diet items, and kid-friendly foods.

When you donate to The Foodbank, it is important to us that you understand the impact of your support. Our organization has received recognition at the national level for our financial accountability and impact, including a 100.0 score from Charity Navigator and a Guidestar Platinum rating.

To support this campaign, visit thefoodbankdayton.org/donate and select Valley Food Relief. We are thankful for every dollar donated as we know every contribution — no matter the size — represents your belief in a hunger-free community.

Michelle Riley is the Chief Executive Officer of The Foodbank, Inc. in Dayton Ohio. Under Michelle’s leadership, the Foodbank has nearly tripled its food distribution to a network of 98 soup kitchens, emergency shelters, and food pantries in Montgomery, Greene, and Preble counties of Ohio.

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