Shared from the 9/17/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

In fight against hunger, poverty is the real villain

Despite our country’s best efforts, we have not won the fight against hunger.

This fact is at the forefront of our minds as we begin September, “Hunger Action Month.” Join Houston Food Bank as we work to end hunger and poverty by volunteering, donating and advocating. As you help us by participating in any of these activities, I invite you to see our work together through a new lens. As the largest food bank in the country — working with 1,500 hard-working partners — we have learned many lessons over the last 30 years, but none more important than this: We will not end hunger without ending poverty.

When I first started in food-banking 31 years ago, it was thought that we could end hunger by channeling surplus food through hunger-relief charities. The majority of people who needed food assistance were unemployed. The amount of surplus food in the United States was many times greater than the amount of missing meals. The challenge was logistical: route the surplus food to where there is food deficiency.

Despite our successes over the years, the Census Bureau shows more hunger than when we started. National distribution goals have been met or exceeded each year. Houston Food Bank has had tremendous output, distributing 104 million meals last year within our 18-county service area. Still, 1.1 million people in the region struggle with food insecurity: they lack access to enough food to fuel a regular healthy life, as defined by the USDA. In 2004, Feeding America set goals of increasing distribution by 920 million pounds and decreasing hunger by 50 percent. We beat the poundage goal by a large margin, and yet hunger went up.

Why are we losing?

Contrary to the early days of food banking, today most of the people seeking services are working; yet low wages continue to present obstacles to achieving longterm stability. Our focus as a country had been on the symptom, not the underlying sickness: poverty. The most recent Hunger in America study shows 57 percent of the households we served had to choose in the previous year between food and rent or mortgage. Sixty-six percent had to choose between food and medicine. Further, two-thirds of food-insecure homes have a working adult. These are tough choices no one should be making.

What’s next?

We need to better understand our impact and re-imagine our future. HFB’s new vision is “A world that doesn’t need food banks” and our new mission is “Food for better lives.” The vision and mission are the foundation of our work, from daily food distributions made possible by our 1,500 community partners, to our Food for Change programs, which use food as a catalyst —in collaboration with education, economic mobility, and health partners, etc. — to help people achieve their goals.

Thanks to this vast network, our food bank has built a powerful engine. Our “logistics with a mission” goal uses our expertise in surplus food distribution in newly strategic ways, bringing the most value to the community. By integrating Food for Change’s model across our food bank, we can turn partnerships into transformational collaborations . We can break cycles of poverty by advocating to improve public policy making food more accessible.

We are also charting a path to galvanize our relationships to spark a national conversation to end poverty. How can we work together to shape this world so that it will no longer need food banks? This Hunger Action Month, please join us as we work to not only feed those who are hungry but also to end the need for the food line altogether.

Start today by advocating to protect programs that help people put food on the table and get out of poverty. Until Sept. 23, you can submit a comment to oppose changes to the SNAP program that would harshly restrict eligibility rules that would deny SNAP benefits to 3.1 million people across the country, including working families, seniors, children, and people with disabilities. To stay connected to end poverty, visit With your help, we can continue to feed people today while also addressing poverty and its root causes —so we can all live better lives.

Greene is president and CEO of the

Houston Food Bank.

See this article in the e-Edition Here