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Food Banks Share Strategies for Fighting Hunger

Hosting cooking classes is just one way that traditional food banks or soup kitchens can transform themselves into vibrant and welcoming community centers. Credit: The Stop, Toronto
Hosting cooking classes is just one way that traditional food banks or soup kitchens can transform themselves into vibrant and welcoming community centers. Credit: The Stop, Toronto
September 16, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - People who run food banks and soup kitchens across North America - including some from New Mexico - are meeting this week to brainstorm ways to make their efforts more effective.

One premise of the Closing the Hunger Gap conference is that hunger-relief organizations can do more to fight the root causes of the problem - and engage the people they serve to help make the changes.

Katy Anderson, community initiatives manager at Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque, said she's coming back from the Oregon conference with new ideas and energy.

"We're talking about, what are the underlying issues - obviously, there's poverty, there's joblessness - that are not going to be addressed by handing someone a box full of food," she said. "It gets me more excited about the work we do, because we can make change, and change can happen."

Anderson said New Mexico is among the states that still haven't regained the number of jobs lost in the Great Recession, and ranks high for food insecurity and childhood hunger.

About 450 people at the conference discussed the need for more political involvement by food banks and other charitable groups that see the results of hunger firsthand.

Nick Saul is considered an expert in this field for transforming a single Toronto soup kitchen into Community Food Centres Canada - sites that offer resource referrals, gardens and cooking classes, a speakers bureau and more. Now president and chief executive of CFCC, he wrote a book about it, called "The Stop," and told the crowd it begins with serving a quality meal to those who need it.

"I guarantee you, it'll be the best meal they eat in a long time," he said, "and they look up from that food and say, 'Wow, how can I get involved?' - in a whole range of ways that are much more participatory and less stigmatizing than standing in a line and being handed not terribly healthy food."

Attendees talked about modernizing a food-banking system that has been around for decades, serving healthier foods, and forging partnerships with grocery stores, farms and restaurants to waste less food. At least four New Mexico groups sent representatives to the conference.

The conference ends today; information is at thehungergap.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NM