April 15, 2015

We will never food bank our way out of hunger

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Among the myths about hunger in America frequently repeated is the notion that it is better for local charities to feed people, not the government. The massive scale of the issue of hunger, the complex factors contributing to this problem, and the response necessary to adequately address it reveal a far different truth: charity alone is not the answer to ending hunger.

Charitable organizations – including MAZON’s nationwide network of partners on the front lines – were not conceived to feed entire communities. Instead, these food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens help to alleviate what were thought to be temporary or emergency situations. The charitable sector provides an important short-term fix but is inherently insufficient to solve the systemic problem of hunger. Many of these agencies are small operations open only a few days a week and for a few hours of each day. They are largely volunteer run, often out of basements or closets at their local houses of worship, and they primarily distribute food that has been donated from within their communities. They simply could never have the capacity to feed the significant and persistent number of people who need help.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture plays a strong and vital role in ensuring that hungry Americans have access to food by administering 15 distinct food and nutrition assistance programs. These federal assistance programs serve as our nation’s frontline defense against food insecurity. We cannot food bank our way to an end to hunger, nor do charities have the means to fill the gap left by declining government support. Only the government has the capacity to address an issue with the magnitude of hunger and work toward a solution to this problem.

It is essential that the government nutrition safety net programs are operated with the utmost effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability, and the USDA works diligently to ensure this is the case. Such well-run government programs embody our national commitment to account for the needs and rights of all Americans and our collective responsibility to care for the most vulnerable among us. MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is proud to stand as a partner in this shared effort to end hunger in the U.S.