No matter the industry, we all have a role to play in the fight against hunger

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As I write this, we are eagerly awaiting the US Senate to pass President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ legislation. It is important that this pass because it calls for the continuation of the child tax credit program that has helped lift American families out of poverty.

So why is the founder of a renewable energy company writing about food insecurity?

It’s easier to answer than you think. Our business model is centered around circularity – from farm to fork, and food waste goes back to the farm – where it is mixed with agricultural waste (manure) to make renewable natural gas. Food insecurity is also circular – except it is a vicious form of circularity, where those who face food insecurity also face poverty; and this cycle, for many, never ends. If we don’t help our neighbors break this cycle now, we could lose an entire generation of Americans.

where we were

Last year, I wrote about the large-scale food insecurity crisis our country has faced due to the pandemic. At the time, Feed America
estimates that 17 million children are among more than 50 million people who could potentially face hunger due to COVID-19.

Food insecurity is hurting our young people and their success in the classroom. All studies show that children do better in school when they are nourished. In-person education helps our teachers understand who might be experiencing food insecurity at home; with distance learning, students miss the free breakfasts and lunches they usually receive and the attention of teachers who can meet their needs.

When I spoke to Oregon Food Bank CEO
Suzanne Morgan for this article, she noted that “we are in a 100-year hunger deluge”. 2020 has been a year of constant struggles for our service providers across the country working to feed those in need.

The task of feeding American families during the pandemic has fallen on the shoulders of our food banks. From coast to coast, these service providers have moved mountains and found ways to deliver food to those who need it most, while doing so with less assistance, draining financial resources and facing their own challenges and risks.

In 2020, the team of Pioneering Renewable Energies knew we had to do something to help our local community. So we partnered with
Dairy Farmers of Americait is Farmers feed families distribute 17,000 gallons of whole milk to families in Massachusetts and Rhode Island over four weeks. It was a meaningful way for us to give back to our communities.

The year 2021 has seen an improvement for many people facing pandemic-induced food insecurity. During the first week of 2022, I requested Andrew Schiff — CEO of Rhode Island Community Food Bank (RICFB), which has 150 member agencies — which he saw as the driving force behind this improvement.

“Things have gotten a lot better in 2021, thanks to the Biden administration’s response and the quick action of Congress,” he said. “Federal programs like increased unemployment benefits, increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (BREAK) and the Child Tax Credit put money in the hands of those who needed it most. They could now go to the grocery store and buy food. These programs had a direct correlation to fewer visitors to our state’s food pantries. »

In early 2021, I wrote that we weren’t sure what would happen with the extension of unemployment benefits and SNAP; fortunately, Congress has expanded these programs. However, the increase in unemployment benefits ended in September, the child tax credit program ended in December and it is believed that the additional SNAP benefits will end this spring. If Congress does not act quickly, those facing food insecurity in 2019 will be back in the same position.

I recently reached out to Morgan to get his perspective on how 2021 has gone and where we are going. Morgan shared, “In 2019, we served 860,000 people; at the height of the pandemic, we served 1.7 million people. However, last year we saw that number drop to around 1 million.

I asked her where she thought the drop was coming from, and her response was very similar to Schiff’s: “Public investment. Stimulus checks, additional unemployment benefits, additional SNAP benefits, eviction moratoria, and additional child tax credits. All of these public investments have made a difference in preventing hunger from remaining at these 2020 levels.”

where we are now

As I write these lines, we are eagerly awaiting the United States Senate to pass the “Building back better» legislation. It is important that this pass because it calls for the continuation of the child tax credit program that has helped lift American families out of poverty.

The expanded child tax credit program has been a game-changer for needy American families. These funds helped families keep food on their tables and contributed to expensive childcare as parents re-entered the workforce or returned to their offices. the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University

estimates that these benefits kept 3.8 million children out of poverty in November alone. With month after month of declining poverty rates thanks to these extra benefits since July, it felt like a step backwards when they ended in December 2021.

As COVID-19 still rages across the world and supply chains are disrupted, these things are creating a perfect storm for food banks across our country.

If we don’t pass this once-in-a-generation legislation, it will strain America’s poorest and hungriest — at a time when the pandemic has no end in sight.

What comes next

When I asked both Schiff and Morgan what they saw as the challenges for the year ahead, they shared a similar sentiment: inflation.

“With rising food prices, the people feeling the hit the most are families on the fringes,” Schiff said. “In New England, these families are trying to figure out how to afford the high cost of heat, rent and food for their families.”

“What worries me the most is the purchasing power of low-income people. The most extensive hunger relief program in this country is SNAP, which pumps billions of dollars into the pockets of people who don’t have enough money to buy groceries. If benefits don’t increase, it may mean a family may only have enough funds for three weeks instead of four, or even worse, just two weeks,” Morgan explained. “It is important to note that these benefits provide a significant return on this public investment. These dollars flow back into our communities in our markets and grocery stores. Research shows that every SNAP dollar spent provides $1.79 of economic benefit to a community and the ancillary jobs supported by the food retail industry.

Like food banks across the country, each said they saw a significant decrease in support from their “usual” partners – such as grocery stores and food producers. The pandemic has led more of us to eat at home and not eat out, leading to a drastic decrease in the amount of food readily available in the supply chain.

what we can do

When I asked Morgan and Schiff what we could do to help end hunger, the answer was the same: Call your lawmakers and encourage your friends and family to do the same. And if you can, donate to your local food bank.

Waste produced from food is an integral part of Vanguard Renewables’ business model. however, I am more concerned that the richest country in the world cannot feed its people. It’s a social responsibility that the team and I take seriously.

We have faced food insecurity for generations. Yet, with the passage of the Build Back Better Bill, we may be able to manage the problem.

At the end of our days, we will ask ourselves: have we done enough? I’m not sure I can say yes, but I’m sure I’ll try to make a change for the better.

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