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11 posts categorized "Food Insecurity"

Fifty Years After the War on Poverty, Americans Want to Renew a National Commitment

January 20, 2014

(Deborah Weinstein is executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a partner in the Half in Ten campaign.)

Headshot_deborah_weinsteinIf your refrigerator is empty and you’re not sure when you’ll be eating your next meal, reflecting on the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Poverty may not be your first priority. Unfortunately, a recent survey conducted by Half in Ten, an organization dedicated to cutting the poverty rate in America by 50 percent within ten years, finds that having trouble paying for necessities is a fact of life for at least a quarter of all Americans. And more than half of all Americans say that someone in their immediate or extended family is poor. For millions of struggling families, building a pathway out of poverty is an urgent matter.

Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status, should share this sense of urgency. But wanting to do something about poverty isn't enough. We need to take a hard look at why poverty persists and what works to reduce it. At a time when people increasingly are aware of growing inequality and hardship in America, the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's speech launching the War on Poverty is a good opportunity to do so. In the survey conducted by Half in Ten, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they believe poverty stems from jobs that do not pay enough and/or from lack of education and health care, while only one in four ascribed poverty to bad personal choices or irresponsibility. Many see — in their own lives or in the experiences of friends and relatives — that the economy is failing to provide people with opportunities to move up, let alone support a family. They are correct. According to a new report from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, in the three years after the "official" end of the Great Recession, 99 percent of Americans saw their incomes grow by less than 1 percent, while income for the richest 1 percent rose 31 percent. Yes, the economy has grown since the recession, but most Americans are not sharing in the gains.

What's more, an overwhelming majority of Americans (86 percent) agree that government has a responsibility to take action to reduce poverty, while at least eight in ten survey respondents support expanded nutrition assistance, affordable quality child care, universal pre-K education, and raising the minimum wage as steps toward that goal. The War on Poverty introduced many initiatives in these areas that did help to reduce poverty in America. Over a period of four years, LBJ and his team managed to push a stunningly comprehensive package of legislation through Congress, creating the food stamp program, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, college affordability programs, job training, housing, and civil rights laws, as well as increasing Social Security benefits. Indeed, a recent Columbia University study shows that when income from food stamps and low-income tax credits is included in poverty calculations, the U.S. poverty rate declined from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012. Similarly, a long-term look at Head Start program participants found they were more likely to finish high school and less likely to turn to crime than low-income children who didn’t participate in Head Start.

Thanks to Johnson's War on Poverty, the official poverty rate in America was cut in half over little more than a decade, bottoming out at 11.1 percent in 1973. Then it began to rise again. Some in Congress who oppose spending federal dollars on programs for the poor point to today's unacceptably high poverty rate to argue that the War on Poverty failed. That is not true. Substantial progress was made, but it wasn't enough to overcome the changes that have transformed the American economy over the last thirty years.

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Big-Dollar Philanthropy Gets the Broad-Brush Treatment

December 03, 2013

(David Jacobs is director of foundation information management at the Foundation Center. In his last post, he claimed to be shocked – shocked! – that the IRS was subjecting conservative and Tea Party organizations applying for tax-exempt status to extra scrutiny.)

Blue_paintIs big-dollar, high-profile celebrity philanthropy really just for show? That's what Guy Sorman, a City Journal contributing editor and public intellectual in France, seems to think. Writing in the fall issue of CJ, Sorman cites a CNN story from March that begins: "Bill Gates is putting out a call to inventors, but he's not looking for software or the latest high-tech gadget. This time he's in search of a better condom."

"Incongruous as the story seemed," writes Sorman,

the former Microsoft titan had joined the struggle against sexually transmitted diseases. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was offering a $100,000 start-up grant to anyone who could design a condom that didn't interfere with sexual pleasure. Rachel Zimmerman, host of public radio’s CommonHealth, called the Gates Foundation's initiative "truly inspired." But was it? After all, the latex industry has pursued the same goal for decades and devoted many millions of dollars to the effort. What's the point of a philanthropist trying to do what the market is already doing?

Call this philanthropy for show, a kind of celebrity giving designed for a mediatized age, based on grand gestures, big dollars, and heartwarming proclamations -- but too little concern with actual results, which often prove paltry, redundant (as with the condom initiative), or even destructive. The American media often revel in controversy, so one might expect that the gap between expansive promises and disappointing outcomes would prompt intense journalistic interest. But for the most part, would-be statesmen-humanitarians -- such as Bill Clinton, Gates, and Al Gore, along with entertainment-world benefactors like Oprah Winfrey and academic superstars like Columbia development economist Jeffrey Sachs, have gotten a free pass for their good philanthropic intentions. They and their cohorts deserve closer scrutiny....

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Philanthropy and the Millennium Development Goals

September 27, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center.)

Headshot_brad-smith2New York has been abuzz this week with the reconvening of the United Nations General Assembly and the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, and in the streets, cafes and restaurants you can hear people from all over the world taking about "the MDGs." Those who circulate in the acronym-laden universe of international development know that "MDGs" are the Millennium Development Goals -- the ambitious blueprint developed by the United Nations in the year 2000 to make serious progress on the pressing challenges of global poverty, health, education, and environment.

By one measure, "MDGs" is hardly a buzz phrase among America's philanthropic foundations. I just did a quick keyword search of three years' worth of 990-PF tax returns for close to 90,000 foundations and found just seven in which the term "millennium development goals" appeared. Then I tried an "only foundations" Google search on Glasspockets and got 3.65 million results!

But what people usually want to know about foundations is how much money they have spent on a cause or issue. It says a lot that only once in the years since the Millennium Development Goals were established has the Foundation Center been asked to map foundation funding to the eight goals. So this being a week where the MDGs are being discussed everywhere, we decided to pull some very quick data for 2011.

Goal Amount No. of Grants No. of Fdns.
Eradicate extreme poverty $770,761,183 1,663 318
Achieve universal primary ed 42,756,909 294 80
Promote gender equality 223,768,315 312 56
Reduce child mortality 456,276,756 337 54
Improve maternal health 211,008,135 215 38
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, other diseases 1,572,823,543 426 48
Ensure environmental sustainability 534,927,086 1,747 224
Develop partnership for global dev 278,124,929 363 109

 

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Philanthropy and the Open Society: A Q&A With Christopher Stone, President, Open Society Foundations

August 22, 2013

Headshot_christopher_stone"George Soros once told a group of people he and I were speaking to that my appointment signaled no change in the Open Society Foundations, because change had been a constant since OSF's birth and would continue into the foreseeable future," said Christopher Stone when we spoke to him earlier this year.  "And that certainly applies to our funding priorities."

Since Stone joined the Open Society Foundations as president in 2012, many have wondered how, if at all, the change in leadership might affect the global network of philanthropies started and funded by Soros, the hedge fund billionaire. After all, Stone succeeded Open Society's founding president, Aryeh Neier, a former executive director of Human Rights Watch, national director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a close Soros friend who led the foundation for nearly twenty years, helping "to make...[it] into a truly international organization." With foundations in dozens of countries around the world, it was unclear -- and concerning to some -- how Stone intended to "streamline" what Soros previously had described in an interview with the New York Times as "a very complex organization." But, as Stone told us when we spoke with him, what Soros was alluding to was nothing more than new ways of organizing the Foundations' work so that it could "achieve more with each grant, program, and strategy."

Before joining Open Society, Stone served as Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations. Prior to that, he served as director of the Vera Institute of Justice, founded the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and served as a founding director of the New York State's Capital Defender Office and the Altus Global Alliance.

PND spoke with Stone in May and followed up with him via e-mail earlier this month.

Philanthropy News Digest: You were once described by Open Society founder George Soros as an "outsider insider." What did he mean?

Christopher Stone: I think he meant that I've been associated with the Open Society Foundations since the 1990s, but I haven't truly been inside the organization. I've been an advisory board member of the Open Society Justice Initiative since 2004 and an occasional advisor and grantee of the organization since the Open Society Institute was created in 1993. But I've been outside the organization in the sense that I haven't worked directly for Open Society, and I haven't been on any of its governing boards, until now. I can appreciate the organization and understand its history, but I don't have the commitments and am not wedded to any particular elements of the foundations that George Soros, I think, is hoping we will be reviewing over this transition.

PND: What has your varied experience taught you about the potential and limits of philanthropy?

CS: Over the years, I've known a number of foundation presidents and worked with many foundations, occasionally as an informal advisor and mostly as a grantee. Among other things, I've learned that, like other fields, the philanthropic sector is all about relationships; that foundations vary tremendously from one to another; and that they are really dependent in all sorts of ways on their grantees. Not just to execute the projects they support, but to help define and inform their sense of the field. Foundations work hard at getting outside opinions and observations. But it's a hard thing to do, and I think the mutual dependence of foundations on grantees, and grantees on foundations, is not as obvious to a lot of people who assume that the grantee is a supplicant and the foundation has all the cards.

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Food for Thought: Work Together to Fight Hunger

July 15, 2013

(Former Arkansas state senator John Brown is president of the Windgate Charitable Foundation. A version of this post originally appeared as a special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.)

Hunger-1Fifty million people in the U.S., and one in four children, don't know where their next meal is coming from, despite our country having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all Americans.

Last fall at the Conference of Southwest Foundations' annual meeting, my colleagues and I watched clips from A Place at the Table, a documentary that examines the many issues hunger causes and provides insight into what life is like for the millions of people in America who suffer from it. Most of the people featured in the film were working but just did not make enough money to put food on the table for the entire month. Many of them did not qualify for food stamps or bridge cards.

We all left the conference with a new perspective and appreciation of the gravity of the hunger problem in America. It was a wake-up call.

The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, a statewide alliance focused on hunger relief, education and advocacy, estimates that on any given night more than 560,000 of our fellow Arkansans will go to bed with an empty, gnawing ache in their bellies. One in six of our neighbors cannot put food on the table for their family. It isn't because we don't have enough food. The cause is poverty.

Nineteen percent of Arkansans live below the poverty line and often don't have the money to buy milk and bread, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey. Out of the millions of Americans who are food-insecure, a lot of them are right here in the Natural State. In fact, Arkansas is right at the top of the USDA's list of states with the most food-insecure households.

Hunger is a serious economic, social, and cultural threat -- to communities here in Arkansas as well as across the nation. Indeed, according to a 2011 report from the Center for American Progress and Brandeis University, "hunger costs our nation at least $167.5 billion due to the combination of lost economic productivity per year, more expensive public education because of the rising costs of poor education outcomes, avoidable health-care costs, and the cost of charity to keep families fed."

The effects of hunger on children's health and educational achievement are especially alarming. Research conducted by Children's HealthWatch and reported on by Feeding America shows that food-insecure children are 90 percent more likely than kids from food-secure homes to have their overall health reported as "fair/poor" rather than "excellent/ good." And a 2012 survey of public school teachers by Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign shows hungry students struggle with poor academic performance, behavior problems, and health issues.

The good news is that the problem can be solved if we, as Americans, agree that making healthy food available and affordable for all is in our best interests.

I recently toured the Arkansas Foodbank with a group of grantmakers from private foundations across the Southwest to learn more about how the agency is addressing the problem of hunger in the state. The foodbank is a member of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, which was formed almost ten years ago with the support, encouragement, and financial assistance of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Today it provides more than twenty million pounds of food annually to help feed people in need. Collaboration has helped the alliance make great strides in the fight against hunger in Arkansas and is something the two hundred and forty members of the Conference of Southwest Foundations see as key to eliminating food insecurity in the region.

A lot of people think that it's up to government to fix big problems -- and, yes, philanthropic and government assistance are part of the solution to ending hunger in America. But they're not enough. The fact is, eliminating something as monumental as hunger -- in Arkansas and nationwide -- will require a commitment by each and every one of us to come together to make sure that every family is able to feed itself and no child ever goes hungry.

-- John Brown

[Infographic] Hunger in America

February 23, 2013

This week's infographic, courtesy of Feeding America and Upworthy, expands on last week's theme, disparities in diet-related diseases in NYC, to illustrate the growing problem of hunger in America.

That so much want exists amidst so much plenty will come as a surprise to many. And yet, as David Nasby, a former vice president of the General Mills Foundation and founder of the nation's first food bank network, noted in a speech a few years ago: "Tonight, thousands of your neighbors will go to bed hungry. It may be your child's schoolmate who is undernourished and has difficulty learning on an empty stomach. Or it could be a co-worker, a working mother whose low-wage job doesn't make ends meet. Perhaps it's an elderly neighbor who has to make a decision whether to delay filling a prescription or buying groceries. The faces of hunger are as broad as the faces of America."

 

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[Infographic] Healthy Food and Community Change in NYC

February 16, 2013

On Thursday, the New York City-based Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund launched its Healthy Food & Community Change initiative with a commitment of $15 million over five years for healthy food programs across the city.

As the fund-created infographic below illustrates, there are vast disparities in diet-related diseases across New York City. The initiative aims to address these disparities by supporting strategies designed to increase the availability, affordability, and knowledge of healthy foods while promoting healthy food choices in high-need neighborhoods.

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From Global to Local: Partnerships Are Critical to Success

February 08, 2013

(Nancy E. Roman is president and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, which she joined in January 2013 after serving as director of public/private partnerships and communications at the United Nations' World Food Programme. Prior to joining WFP, Roman was vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.)

Headshot_nancy_romanMoving from a job with the World Food Programme -- the world's largest humanitarian agency -- to the Capital Area Food Bank, a local NGO, has afforded me a bright-line look at the advantages and challenges of global versus local. The global humanitarian arena allows for scale but little flexibility or agility. The local environment allows for just the reverse: we move swiftly, like a speedboat, toward the problem but must depend on others to scale up our best solutions and practices. But one common theme emerges for both: the importance of partnerships.

Whether tackling hunger or clean water, disease eradication, literacy, or social justice, solutions to the great humanitarian and social problems of our day have eluded us. Both global and local hunger persist, despite the heroic efforts of many. And from both global and local vantage points, it becomes ever clearer that we urgently need to collaborate more effectively with our partners to meet the challenges we face.

For millennia, the human race has been finding ways to help others in need. But addressing social problems through agencies designed and built to tackle particular problems is a relatively new phenomenon. The International Committee of the Red Cross, founded in 1863, is one of the earliest. United Nations organizations such as UNICEF and the WFP are but fifty years old. Many of the largest and best-known NGOs are even more recent players. Founded in 1980, the Capital Area Food Bank was created to end hunger in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Unfortunately, over the last thirty-three years, the need has not diminished. Poverty is on the rise, in our region and nationally. Indeed, we have witnessed a 25 percent increase in hunger since the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008. Today, more than 680,000 individuals, including 200,000 children, in the District of Columbia, northern Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland look to us for help. And while the ranks of the working poor are growing, the middle class is also under stress, as many people who have never needed emergency food services find themselves at the doors of our neighborhood partner agencies and food pantries, which depend on CAFB for food and household items.

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Hunger in America: A Q&A With Julie Gehrki, Walmart Foundation

October 12, 2012

In 2010, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation launched a five-year, $2 billion effort to help end hunger in America. In partnership with Feeding America and five of the country’s largest food companies -- ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods, and Unilever -- Walmart has since launched a variety of initiatives to encourage its customers to join the fight against hunger. Earlier this fall, Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Walmart Foundation senior director Julie Gehrki about the company's Fighting Hunger Together campaign and what the foundation is doing to address hunger in America.

Julie_gehrki_headshotPhilanthropy News Digest: What effect has the sluggish economic recovery and the drought in the Midwest had on hunger and food insecurity in the United States?

Julie Gehrki: In early September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the results of its most recent survey, which found that more than fifty million Americans are suffering from food insecurity. And a recent survey conducted by Feeding America found that 65 percent of its foodbank directors are very worried about food supply in the coming months. While we're hopeful the economy will continue to improve, we want to make sure that those who may not be benefiting from the improvement are taken care of. Feeding America foodbanks are on the frontlines of need in our communities, and Walmart wants to make sure they have the food they need to help those who need it -- particularly if food prices rise, as some are predicting, and as we head into the holiday season.

PND: What are some of the best ways for individuals to fight hunger in their communities?

JG: One of the things we're doing is called the Golden Spark campaign. Through Sunday, October 14, people can go to Walmart.com/hunger or our Facebook page and vote for a community to win $50,000 to start or expand a backpack program -- that's a program that provides meals to food-insecure children over the weekend, when they don't have access to free- or reduced-price school meals. A lot of people understand that kids get fed through school, lunches and sometimes breakfasts, during the week. But the backpack program forces people to think about what a kid does on the weekend. Studies have found that teachers have noticed that many kids are less attentive on Monday mornings, and that's because many of them have not eaten enough over the weekend. Backpack programs are largely run by volunteers. Individuals pack backpacks with food that's easy for kids to open and prepare on their own over the weekend. Walmart believes this is a local issue, something that communities and individuals in those communities have to rally around, because it's their neighbors who are feeling the pain.

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Romney, Ryan, and Charity

August 16, 2012

(Mark Rosenman, a Washington-based scholar-activist and director of Caring to Change, a D.C.-based effort to promote foundation grantmaking for the common good, is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he argued that nonprofits are missing from critical policy debates.)

Rosenman_headshotWith the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate, Mitt Romney has changed the stakes of the 2012 presidential race. Well beyond Republican versus Democrat, the question now before Americans is who we are as a nation and a people. Over the next four years, we must make decisions about public responsibility for the common good, about what we expect of government, and of what we expect of one another. The nonprofit and philanthropic sectors cannot afford to ignore this debate.

Developed by the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee and already passed by the House of Representatives, the so-called "Ryan Plan" would have an immediate impact on many nonprofits, especially those serving low- and moderate-income people. Ultimately, however, it would affect each and every area of government support for charitable causes.

Indeed, after announcing Ryan as his running mate, candidate Romney issued a statement trying to distance himself from the plan, even though previously he had described it as "marvelous" and said he was "on the same page" as Ryan in terms of budget priorities. Charities are prohibited involvement in electoral politics, but helping to shape a public discussion about policy and our values as a nation is essential; nonprofit and foundation leaders must declare which page they are on.

Before we take a closer look at the unfolding debate, let me point out that Mitt Romney has himself already proposed similar policies. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concludes, for example, that Romney's detail-deprived proposal for tax reform would give the wealthiest Americans a significant tax cut while imposing tax increases on the remaining 95 percent of Americans.

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‘Fair and Square’ and Philanthropic

July 06, 2012

The JCPenney Company, which was founded over a hundred years ago by James Cash Penney on the principle of treating customers "fair and square," recently launched a new charitable giving program called jcp cares that aims to build stronger communities across the country.

Through the program, the company plans to support a different cause or charity each month, for at least the next six months, with direct contributions and donations from customers. The first six charities selected to receive support through the program are the USO (July), 4-H and the Boys & Girls Club of America (August), Teach for America (September), the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (October), Share Our Strength (November), and the Salvation Army (December).

As someone not privy to the closed-door discussions that led to the selection of the six charities, I find myself wondering how the company came up with its list. Okay, some of the choices are obvious. This month's charity, the USO, supports military personnel and their families -- an entirely appropriate choice in a month that includes Independence Day. Similarly, Teach for America is an obvious choice for everyone's favorite back-to-school month, and what could be more appropriate than supporting the Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign in December.

But in an era when companies, like almost everybody else, need to compete for the dollars and attention of consumers, you might expect JCPenney to be a little more creative about how it engages customers in its philanthropy. For example, what about asking customers for nominations of organizations deserving of the company's support via Facebook or Twitter? Or, taking it a step further, being more transparent about the actual selection process it did employ?

The company has said that, from July 23 to July 31, it will donate $1 -- up to $50,000 -- to its July partner, the USO, for every customer that checks in at a JCP location via foursquare. It has also launched a dedicated page on BroadCause where customers can share their personal stories and has said in its press release that it will engage charitably minded customers through the Facebook game WeTopia. I just hope the company has a long-term vision for its corporate giving that goes beyond "clicktivism."

What do you think? Am I being grumpy, or should the company be doing more to engage its customers in its new charitable giving program? Share your thoughts in the comments selection below.

-- Regina Mahone

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