Every year the Greater Chicago Food Depository offers a limited number of scholarships for member agency representatives to attend the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, DC.  To apply next year, look for the scholarship application that is sent out in December.  
We will be featuring three guest bloggers from Food Depository member agencies who will share their experiences at this year’s conference.  The second is Mary Freeman, coordinator of the St. Francis Xavier Food Pantry in La Grange.

The 2012 Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, DC was an educational and inspirational experience!    As a local food pantry coordinator in the western suburbs, the conference sessions of experts provided an educational overview of the 2012 Farm Bill legislation and USDA Food and Nutrition programs that affect our local outreach to those in need of food assistance.  I was particularly impressed by the determination of hunger advocates and policymakers to provide nutritious foods, via agricultural commodities and outreach to local farmer markets, to hungry people in every community across the country.  Additionally, I learned a great deal from the various sessions regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  
Some SNAP facts that made an impression on me include:
·         SNAP is intended to be targeted, timely, and temporary, with average assistance lasting 9 months.
·         The program has an impressively low 4% error rate on SNAP payments and continues to be vigilant against fraud. 
·         For every $5 in SNAP benefits spent, $9 is returned to the local economy making this it an attractive partnership to local businesses. 
·         It is a challenge to survive on SNAP benefits with monthly assistance averaging $1.49/person/meal and most benefits running out by day 21 in any month.  
 The face of hunger in America in 2012 is changing!  It knows no political, geographic, religious, gender or socioeconomic boundaries!  A sustained bad economy as evidenced by high unemployment and increasing costs of fuel and food make nutritious food a luxury for many American families.  The best anti-hunger program is a stable job with decent wages which is what our clients at St. Francis Xavier desire more than anything else: a means to provide for themselves and their families.   In the meantime, all entities — business, charities, and an effective government assistance program — are needed to assist the 1 in 6 Americans who struggle with food insecurity daily.  The message was clear: we can either pay now or pay later with deteriorating health outcomes. 

It was an honor and privilege to share humbling stories of hunger from pantry clients with our elected representatives, including staff from 3rd District Congressman Lipinski’s office and US Senator Kirk’s office.  I found these staff to be willing listeners of the need to support and strengthen the Farm Bill as it relates to these food and nutrition programs.  I hope to see that support put into action when the votes are counted. 

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