Hunger Action (every)Day

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Members of the 43rd Congressional District brought legislative hunger and food issues to the state capitol on March 9, 2015

This post by Anna Lourie of Solid Ground’s Cooking Matters program originally appeared on the Cooking Matters Blog.

March is National Nutrition Month! So, what does that mean exactly? To us at Cooking Matters, it means a chance to focus on ourselves and our nutrition – perhaps by paying a little extra attention to our food choices, making sure to get outside with some physical activity, or being intentional about enjoying some of the MyPlate groups that we don’t always fit in. (We’re looking at you, fruits and vegetables!)

However, as we spend the month reflecting on nutrition, it’s important to also consider one of the huge barriers to leading a nutritious lifestyle: food insecurity. The Children’s Alliance estimates that approximately 305,000 Washington state children live in food insecure households. (Food insecurity is a term used to describe households financially stretched to the point where they cannot be certain that all of their members have a consistent, reliable source of food.) Households particularly affected by food insecurity are those headed by single mothers or fathers, African-American or Hispanic households, and households with incomes below the official poverty line.

On Monday, Cooking Matters joined concerned citizens, employees of Solid Ground, food bank clients and directors, service providers, urban agriculturalists, nutritionists and members of anti-poverty and hunger organizations from all over the state to speak to legislators in Olympia on behalf of hungry families in Washington. This powerful event, called Hunger Action Day, is organized by the Anti Hunger & Nutrition Coalition and occurs during the legislative session to place emphasis on hunger issues.

cooking matters

2015 Hunger Action Day participants rallying on the Legislative Building steps in Olympia

The event began with an information session in the basement of the Capitol building where we discussed our priorities and shared some staggering statistics about hunger in Washington state. We were shocked to learn that Washington ranks 43rd out of 50 states in connecting low-income students to nutritious school breakfasts. In addition, of the 11,000 legal immigrant families in Washington who rely on State Food Assistance, these families receive only 75 cents to the dollar of food stamp benefits others receive. Are you fired up yet? We sure were.

After this information session, we broke into smaller groups to meet with our respective legislators and discuss how to better serve the one in seven Washingtonians who are food insecure. We met with legislators from the 43rd Congressional District, the district where some of our coordinators reside and Solid Ground is located. We didn’t know if we would be able to speak with our elected officials since there were House votes scheduled for most of the day, but we were actually able to speak to two Representatives and two Legislative Assistants about our agenda for this year!

It was so amazing to be able to talk about the daily experiences that we have with our participants here at Cooking Matters, and to hear that our elected officials share our passion for ending hunger in Washington. This is why Cooking Matters is so important in the larger context of food justice in our state. To learn more about these issues, please visit the Anti Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s list of 2015 legislative priorities website.

Meeting legislators makes Olympia feel less remote

Editor’s note: Anthony Bencivengo is a senior at Nathan Hale High School. For his Senior Project, he is working with Solid Ground and the Statewide Poverty Action Network to engage his peers in the state political process. Here, Anthony reports on lobbying in Olympia with other youth on Martin Luther King, Jr. Lobby Day.

January 20, 2014 –

The inside of the People’s House of the Washington State Capitol wasn’t quite as majestic as its facade. The corridors of the John L. O’Brien Building, where state Representatives have their offices, were hot, crowded with people, and had the slowest elevators ever. But as my group squeezed its way through, I was so excited that I hardly noticed.

part of the Hales H.S. crew in Olympia l to r: Robert Mercer, Francis Britschgi, Naomi Price-Lazarus and Jasmine Shirey. Photo by Anthony Bencivengo.

Part of the Nathan Hale H.S. crew in Olympia, l to r: Robert Mercer, Francis Britschgi, Naomi Price-Lazarus and Jasmine Shirey (Photo by Anthony Bencivengo)

This was a day I’d been looking forward to for awhile. As part of my Senior Project, I organized a group of my fellow Nathan Hale High School students to join Statewide Poverty Action Network’s annual MLK Day legislative lobbying session. We, along with over 100 other volunteers, split into groups by legislative district and spread out to meet personally with our state legislators.

The issues we raised ranged widely, from the unfairness of large Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) to preserving welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). And the people in our groups ranged widely, too. Experienced legislative advocates (who seemed to know everyone in Olympia) helped the rest of us navigate the process. People with mental illnesses told horror stories about the drastically underfunded state agencies they turned to for help. Homeless single mothers shared their equally bad experiences with the unresponsive state welfare system. And high school students like us spoke up, too.

Part of the 46th District team, l to r: Robert Mercer, Sarajane Siegfriedt, Jesse Kleinman. Photo by Anthony Bencivengo.

Part of the 46th District team, l to r: Robert Mercer, Sarajane Siegfriedt, Jesse Kleinman (Photo by Anthony Bencivengo)

We learned a lot from the people in our groups, particularly those with personal experiences of homelessness.

“I sort of had this image in my head of what homeless people were like,” admits Naomi Price-Lazarus. That image was changed by the actual homeless people she met. “Their strength was really surprising,” she recalls. “They keep pushing and trying to overcome all the obstacles they’re facing, and even when they keep failing, they don’t give up.”

“This was definitely an eye-opener for me,” adds Francis Britschgi. “Before, poverty was just kind of something that happened, and it was too bad. But the stories I heard today were almost tear-moving.”

The legislators we talked to seemed to be affected in the same way. “They seemed genuinely interested,” observes Robert Mercer. “The one I talked to was really supportive and enthusiastic,” agrees Naomi. They were already well-informed about many of the issues, shared most of our concerns, and pledged to work to fix the problems we had mentioned.

This experience really humanized our state legislators for us. Upon seeing a teddy bear on the desk of a state Representative, Jasmine Shirey exclaimed, “They’re like people!”

“They were really easy to talk to,” adds Naomi. “It wasn’t super formal or anything.”

It turns out our legislators have their quirks, too (who knew Gerry Pollet had a Lord of the Rings Pez collection?). Francis saw a sign on one Representative’s door that said, ‘Tax the rich or kill the poor.’ “I was surprised,” he says. “It seemed kind of inflammatory.” But it was also a sign that these legislators chose to enter politics not for money or power but because, like us, they are passionate about economic justice. And with our state facing problems that will take a lot of passion and hard work to solve, that was encouraging.

We left Olympia feeling hopeful. Our state legislature, which had felt very remote only the day before, now seemed much more accessible. “I feel like I could go into their office if I needed to,” Robert says. “Or call or email them,” adds Francis. “It feels much more open.”

With this sense that our legislators are listening comes a renewed determination to send them a message. “All these legislators were so great and make such a good impression,” reflects Francis. “But our state’s still [in trouble]. So what’s up?”

What’s up is the difficulty of getting meaningful reform passed in a legislature where infighting and special-interest influence encourage inaction. That’s why we have to sustain the pressure on Olympia that we began to create today. This event was not a panacea. It was only the beginning of a long fight for change. But now, we feel much more empowered to make a difference in this fight.

“It’s really easy to get involved in politics,” replies Naomi when asked what she takes away from the event. “It was a really great experience,” concludes Francis. “Would recommend. 10 out of 10.”

Editor’s note: Read Anthony’s earlier post on recruiting teens to come lobby, Teens going to Olympia to change the conversation, Anthony Bencivengo, 1/20/14.

What’s up with the legislators supporting banks instead of homeowners?

Several weeks ago the bill SB 6648 was turned down by the Washington State House. This bill would have given homeowners a second chance to avoid foreclosure. Lenders would have been required to participate in a mediation to evaluate if there is an affordable and sustainable means to keeping the home, as opposed to selling the home at an auction sale. Reasonable criteria would have been established and lenders would have been required to implement modifications under the current FDIC programs. Moreover, banks would have been mandated to create a fair and open process that would have benefited both, the lenders and homeowners.

Bank balancing on the rotunda of the Capitol in OlympiaIn other words, homeowners currently in foreclosure and heading into foreclosure sale would have been given a second chance to keep their homes. The lenders, on the other hand, would have been able to get an expedited process to help mitigate their losses in addition to mitigating expenses related to foreclosure which can amount up to $70,000 in fees per foreclosure sale. Banks end up buying these properties and selling them at a discounted price, which translates into more losses for the investor and a trickle down effect on the value of properties around neighborhoods. Continue reading

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