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A Look Back at the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference 2021

On March 16th through 19th, JFCS Squirrel Hill Food Pantry Director Matthew Bolton and two program assistants, Samantha Monks and Shane Bell, attended the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. Although typically held in Washington D.C., this year’s conference was conducted virtually and had a record-breaking number of participants attend. After three days of the formal conference, food pantry staff alongside the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and other statewide agencies attended three virtual meetings with Pennsylvania policy makers – Senator Pat Toomey’s office, Senator Bob Casey, and Congressman Mike Doyle’s office – to promote anti-hunger policy and share stories of the lived experiences of hunger on the ground.

Below are reflections and insights gained from those who attended.

Matthew Bolton, Director of JFCS Squirrel Hill Food Pantry: 

The National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference is a powerful opportunity to both learn what is happening in the Federal landscape in regards to food security as well as give us an opportunity to speak with US congressmen about the needs we see in our community as we advocate for our clients. The JFCS Squirrel Hill Food Pantry relies on fair Federal Food Security legislation both directly and indirectly as a safety net that enhances services that include our access to USDA food commodities but also WIC (Women, Infants, Children), SNAP, and many other nutrition programs that our clients rely on everyday to ensure they have enough food.

I first have to say that attending this conference was a challenge. The JFCS Squirrel Hill Food Pantry was open during these sessions as well as the Lobby Day in which we had an opportunity to meet with congressmen. Added to this, we were also carrying out our annual Passover distribution concurrently with our regular distribution. Quite a lot going on. I am proud to share that the pantry maintained our operations and with some juggling and switching seats we were able to attend this important conference and participate in all three congressional meetings with the offices of Senator Toomey, Senator Casey and US Representative Doyle. I give a huge shout out to pantry program assistants Shane Bell and Samantha Monks for making this happen and ensuring that the JFCS Squirrel Hill Food Pantry both maintained outstanding service to our community while at the same time learning and participating in this important national platform. 

My biggest takeaway from participating in this conference was connecting with Miriam Lipschutz, director of advocacy for Challah for Hunger. Our agencies have partnered on the local level but as our pantry is experiencing more food insecurity with college students this connection and conversation led to further engagement, future joint advocacy opportunities and precious information on what trends college students are facing which gives us the knowledge to better serve our clients. 

Samantha Monks, Program Assistant: This year was the first time I attended the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. It was truly inspiring to hear those working in food security across the country share similar stories of adapting to COVID-19 and addressing increased need in their communities. I gathered resources about leveraging programming to help senior adults, expanding our reach to immigrant communities, and finding opportunities for policy changes. Here are some takeaways from the seminars I attended. For seniors, programs offering home delivery were the most impactful nationwide. For immigrant communities, more effort needs to be taken to disaggregate data on refugee and immigrant families. Due to widespread misinformation and fear, members of these communities often do not seek help through federal programs to which they are entitled. On a positive note, organizations that leveraged radio programming were able to reach previously underserved refugee and immigrant communities. Finally, advocacy efforts that are top priority for the food security field include supporting the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act and Child Nutrition Reauthorization. All in all, the conference was very informative and inspiring. There is still so much work to be done, but it helps to know that there are people at every level driving progress forward.

Shane Bell, Program Assistant: This was my first National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. I found the whole experience to be very inviting and informative. The topic materials were grouped into session blocks that allowed for participants to attend the presentations that were of interest to them. Then it afforded one to have a virtual networking opportunity with a vast majority of Anti-Hunger Policy Conference participants from across the United States. It offered a look at how national policies should enact change as it relates to food insecurity, by touching on programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), CACFP (Child and Adult Care Food Program), Community Food Banks, and others. While showing the challenges that many families might face with food insecurity because of race/ethnicity, or immigration status. And offering the policy improvements that could remove those barriers for families of need. I think a benefit of the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference are the connections and resources gained from multiple agencies as it relates to the fight against food insecurity.