By Jordan Mandel, Associate Board Member
I feel so fortunate that I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. As an Associate Board member and one of the few conference attendees who is not dedicated full time to the cause– the conversations I had, people I met, and sessions I sat in on were invaluable in providing context to my role. Most of my efforts have centered on organization and advocacy within my network. The board plays a role in organizing events like the Hunger Walk, CANstruction, and other fundraising and awareness efforts. I’m optimistic that my experience at the conference will allow me to provide value to the board in a new way.
When my second year on the Associate Board began, I felt myself wanting an even more meaningful way to contribute. During a time when anti-hunger policy advocates are needed more than ever, the Food Depository expanded their policy team with several subject matter experts. Having a passion for politics and experience on campaigns, I felt a strong interest in finding a way to participate in advocacy.
The conference was a really meaningful and special experience. Our whole crew of 35 people from a range of agencies and programs was energized and excited to learn. Before each morning session kicked off, we would have breakfast together and get to know fellow members of our “Chicagoland Delegation”. Each person I spoke to was impressive in their own way, and calling them passionate about their mission to end hunger would be an understatement.
Each time block offered a variety of thought-provoking session topics. I routinely found myself wishing I could be in three places at once! Topics included issues around age and race, policy and government, and how to prepare for the fight ahead in a combative political landscape. Experts presented their thoughts, experiences, and suggestions on how advocates can continue to improve their own services.
Lobby Day was icing on the cake! Draped in our Sunday finest, we arrived on Capitol Hill bright and early. For many of us, it was our first time on The Hill and in a Congressman’s office. We had brief, but substantial conversations with Staffers regarding the importance of protecting SNAP and keeping the Farm Bill intact. Hearing our advocates share stories about the struggles of folks in their districts, and the importance of these safety net programs for their clients, was invaluable in driving home our point and making our position clear.
One advocate’s story in particular has really stuck with me. Emily works with men who are homeless in Chicago’s south suburbs. It was clear that she has a special relationship with her clients. They help her with tasks that are physically taxing such as maintaining and weeding a neighborhood garden. After being away from work and her clients for an extended period for medical reasons, several of her clients pooled their resources to buy her get-well flowers for her office. These men have almost nothing to their names, but have such a strong relationship with Emily that they offered her this kind gesture. I get goosebumps just thinking about her telling the story, and this was simply one of many moving stories our team shared!
The conference was capped off with an emotional and inspirational conversation, offering everyone in our group the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about the experience. While specific nuances of the conference and Lobby Day impacted everyone differently, there was an overwhelming feeling of collectiveness and community that was truly authentic. It was a special moment, and one that left everyone feeling fired up!
#AHPC17 was a unique experience that I will remember for years to come. I’m looking forward to building on this momentum, and leveraging all that we learned over the 3 days to help the Greater Chicago Food Depository continue fighting the good fight against hunger.