Jamal here. This fall, Angela Whitmal (our Senior Director of Administration and Participant Services) and I traveled to Tacoma, Washington to attend the Closing the Hunger Gap Conference. The goal of this conference is to move hunger relief organizations toward strategies that promote social justice and address the root causes of hunger, using the lens of racial and economic equity.
When I first went to Tacoma I was narrow-minded regarding some of our programs here at Manna, but, while away, I learned that ignorance is not bliss–especially if you want to truly cure the ails of a society where the have-nots continue to get less and the haves continue to get more.
As I listened to the different speakers talk about the same battles they face in their states, cities, towns that I fight here in Montgomery County, I realized there are a lot of agencies trying to do the right thing but facing the same stumbling blocks: lack of money, lack of man power and a lack of time to get all they want to do get done and still have time for their own lives. I listened to people come up with ideas that we are currently implementing. Which was very encouraging as well as a having a sense of pride, knowing were heading in the right direction.
There was a conversation started about whether it was ethically right to receive monies from Walmart, a cooperation notorious for not paying its store employees enough money to sustain their families. As the Warehouse Manager, I saw myself wanting the food they donate because the food was either going to a land fill or to a needy family, but this was something I never considered. As a youth of the 80s, and the crack epidemic, I watched a lot of young men sell drugs to line their pockets as well as provide for their families, but am I any different then the parent turning the blind eye so bills can get paid while at the same time taking out an insurance policy on my child so in case of death we can now get out the ghetto?
A recurring phrase used was Social Justice. Are we doing enough to help end the cycle that causes families to need our services, or are we part of the cycle of poverty and hunger another part of the machine that like the pharmaceutical / health care industry instead of teaching people how to better their lives through diet and exercise we offer a drug that seems to address the problem while instead causing several others. Are we a placebo? Are we helping to end hunger or continuing the cycle?
I believe now that we do have a larger responsibility to the public then just feeding them. We do need to educate helping those that might not know about the other resources in MoCo, besides Manna Food Center, by putting them in contact with those that can help them get job training, English classes, educational funding, child care and health care if needed as well as many others.
The Social Justice piece encompasses a lot of things in my eyes seeing to the needs of those that don’t have the courage, strength, knowledge, monies to get the help they need to live the life we all deserve. And I believe we at Manna do this daily:
- The drivers get up at the crack of dawn to go out to the stores, farmers markets, synagogues, churches or where ever there is food to be picked up to make sure that it is brought back here and sorted and distributed by volunteers and employees working together to make sure people like their own family get the best.
- A nutrition team helps to draft guidelines and programs advising us and the public on healthier food choices so that those foods they eat aren’t 0 calorie’s but nutritious so they can perform the duties on their jobs and in the class rooms to advance to get them out of the cycle of poverty.
- The development team drafts up grants while also stirring the hearts and minds of donors that might not ever see the people they help, retrieving monies from grants and funds to help pay for the day to day up keep of the facility.
- The volunteer coordinator who helps to bring in a steady supply of help that works for no more than the knowledge of that but for the grace of God there goes I.
- A referral office that takes calls for both requests and complaints ensuring that the participant feels like more than another hand out, but their voice is heard like the voice at the Wegmans complaining about the Organic Strawberries being too bruised.
We can do more, and we will do more, because like those 600+ I walked and talked with in Tacoma: we care, and the job will get done.
If this is a conversation you want to join, consider attending one of our monthly Breaking Bread sessions. Manna creates space and intentional conversations to nurture dialogue around critical issues, such as race, class, and a culture of dependency, that create or contribute to hunger in our community. We hope you will join the conversation on the third Wednesday of every month from 4 – 5:30pm at Manna Food Center, 9311 Gaither Rd., Gaithersburg MD 20895. Questions? Contact Angela Whitmal at 240-268-2527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.