The anti-hunger world is evolving, making it an exciting time to be in this work as a change agent. Nutrition policies, food bank run farms, food hubs, economic development, job skills, and education are but some of the themes bubbling up across the country.
When looking at the theory of change we find ourselves in the stage of creating alternatives and amplifying actions. What happened before this? Some of us within the anti-hunger field were noticing a gap or disequilibrium (and this gap is still felt currently). This existed with the kinds of food that were being given out daily to people who were no longer coming in once or twice but now use the food pantry as a grocery store. From this, we began to realize that people weren’t recovering from the recession and are not able to get back on their feet, so the food pantries becomes their main source of food. There were shifts in thinking that maybe these community organizations should be looking more at root causes than simply existing as a band-aid. Shifts in thinking that these organizations who have existed on handouts as much as the visitors were tired of this power dynamic. We are tired of being powerless while social supports get stripped. We’re tired of being whim to the donation streams containing massive amounts of bread, candy and soda.
Many organizations started changing how they were going to exist in this world. Some organizations have changed swiftly with an entire paradigm shift. Others of us struggle within organizations that we want to see move in the same direction. As many food pantries and banks have shifted and shared their experiences, others hear about this and use the predecessors as models to follow. As with most things, even if the disequilibrium is felt nationally, the change begins locally with your surroundings, your organization. So we have set out having conversations with staff and volunteers and visitors of food pantries. From these conversations we built energy around change and the required paradigm shift. We looked to examples from others already shifting, and created our own alternatives within our food pantries that fit our community’s needs. Some rebuilt their organizations from the services to the staff and volunteers to the board and their donors. Some people left that didn’t agree with the changes and new individuals were drawn in who wanted to be a part of the new community food organization.
I’m sure that there are many of us who are in a similar position I find myself. Seemingly stuck in the phase of amplifying energy around the change, offering alternatives and new ways of doing that seem to just drift in the air and not stick. This phase is very difficult because it takes patience and continually trying to interject change when a leverage point is found. I’ve found others within my organization that want to see change. I try to have conversations with these coworkers to keep our actions amplified so that we continue to gently push when we see intervention points. My organization is rather large and there are many staff who have different beliefs about what we should be doing as a food bank. It is quite difficult to keep pushing some times. I’ve talked with some coworkers that we wish we had colleagues that were already doing this work in their organizations that we could talk to, get advice from, learn from and stay energized. In an environment that can feel negative or that all your trying simply never goes anywhere, at times I just lose steam. I attended a Closing the Hunger Gap conference in 2015. This was an amazing event that had myself and others abuzz with new found energy for change. We talked about how we could leverage what is currently going on within our organization to insert change. As time has gone by and we get into our daily and weekly grind, the energy wanes. We get caught up in running our current programs and all of a sudden I find myself thinking within the same status quo box.
The anti-hunger world is ripe for change. It’s ripe for a new type of organization: a community food organization that looks to build community, provide people with a space to connect, provide the space for economic development. For those of us looking to move our food pantries and banks in this direction we must try to pull ourselves out of our daily grind. Any moment that we are provided a chance to change the way we are doing things, is a leverage point no matter how small to move our work towards this new type of organization.