As Darriel Anderson participated in the Food Depository’s Food Equity Ambassador program over the past year, she realized one of the most valuable tools in her work to help end hunger – her voice.
“One of my major takeaways is that every voice matters,” said Anderson, who for the past ten years has overseen the food pantry at Circle Urban Ministries in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
Anderson shared her insights at a recent gathering to celebrate the graduation of the second cohort of Food Equity Ambassadors. The Food Depository launched the Food Equity Ambassador program two years ago to deepen the advocacy skills of our partner network.
At monthly meetings throughout 2023, the five ambassadors received message training, learned how key legislation impacts their work and community, and received tips on how to connect with elected officials.
As part of the program, Anderson traveled to Springfield, Illinois, for the Food Depository’s Lobby Day, and to Washington, D.C., for a Feeding America conference. In both cities, she met with elected officials to share her perspective.
“Those trips empowered me to know that my lived experience (with food insecurity), work experience and the voice of the neighbors I serve matter,” Anderson said.
For Sophie Milam, the Food Depository’s vice president of policy and advocacy, and the rest of her team, these words were a mark of success for the Food Equity Ambassador program – and for the movement to end hunger. “Advocacy starts with awareness. People don’t engage on an issue if they don’t know about it or understand it,” Milam said.
Michael DeMeyer, food drive coordinator with Faith Feeds (formerly All Saints) food pantry in Palatine, leveraged his learnings as a Food Equity Ambassador to host an event for Hunger Action Month in September. His pantry partnered with local libraries to collect food before the event, and announced their name change at the gathering, reflecting their new partnership with two local churches.
“We’ve been building mutually beneficial relationships with other organizations and local officials,” DeMeyer said.
He added that those officials now have a trusted contact when they want to learn about or address food insecurity in their community.
Wendy Daniels, director of food services at Breakthrough Urban Ministries in East Garfield Park, shared how her team has worked to invite local officials to their pantry to see the need in the community and how they are working to alleviate hunger.
The Breakthrough staff connects neighbors to public assistance programs, striving to overcome common barriers, such as lack of required documentation or difficulty securing transportation to application offices. Daniels makes sure the officials see these realities as well.
“I’m a food equity ambassador for me, my pantry and my community,” Daniels said.
Despite the challenges, she says the work to end hunger in the community is worth it. “I get to do this work. I get to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
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