The White House announced today that the President’s new budget calls for roughly $2.9 trillion in cuts to essential anti-poverty and nutrition programs over the next 10 years that will directly affect the ability of millions of struggling families, low-income workers, children, elderly and disabled Americans to meet their basic needs of affordable health care, accessible education and basic access to nutritious food.
The Washington Post estimates that cuts in programs like Medicaid and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) would directly affect up to one fifth of all Americans. Funding for SNAP, which helps 44 million Americans get the nutritious food they need to live, work and thrive would be cut by more than $193 billion over 10 years, over a 25% reduction. It might be easy for members of Congress or those of us glancing at the evening news to see these big numbers represented in pie charts that promise a balanced budget, and fail to see the 44 million Americans -- our neighbors, friends, co-workers and relatives – whose safety net will be severely compromised or eliminated. In fact, the vast majority of SNAP recipients are children, seniors and working families who simply don’t make enough to meet their basic needs. The budget doesn’t stop there, but calls for cuts for college tuition, Medicaid, rental assistance, job training, and income assistance to poor seniors and people with disabilities.
The facade that President Trump and his administration are advocates for working class and vulnerable Americans has been completely shattered by this proposal. The false narrative that these essential programs create “dependency” is not only inaccurate, but its damaging to the millions of folks struggling to make ends meet.
After 42 years of working with community-based organizations across the country and answering countless Hotline calls from families in immediate need of food, we at WhyHunger know that these cuts will have real, lasting effects on some of the most vulnerable and hardworking Americans for this generation and the next.
If this budget were designed to help anyone except the 1%, it would be filled with programs to support living wage jobs, affordable education and healthcare, universal free school meals, and incentives to build local food and farm economies. It would roll back tax breaks and other incentives that lead to greater consolidation of wealth in the food system and a disregard for the stewardship of the natural resources necessary to nourish us all and cool the planet. It would invest in opportunities for all Americans to live healthy, productive and dignified lives and help rebuild communities most affected by hunger and poverty.
We must stand together to demand that our representatives in Congress reject this proposed budget that hurts our most vulnerable communities and further divides our nation. And we must come together to develop and implement a shared road map for a future that protects children and seniors; ensures the dignity and health of workers; and invests directly in communities’ renewal the country over.
We call on you to join WhyHunger in speaking out! Contact your Member of Congress, write a letter to your editor, share your thoughts on social media and talk with your friends and family about the type of budget, and type of world, you want to see.
This post was updated 5.25
When Patrice Chamberlain met with local police chiefs to explain why they should care about summer meals, she steadied herself for a “big sell.” To her surprise, their immediate response was, “How can we help?” It’s one of the many unlikely partnerships that Chamberlain initiated to help more kids get access to nutritious food in California.
“It starts with having those basic needs met. Police appreciate the opportunity to interact positively in communities. To connect families to resources. To build trust in communities where those relationships have historically been bad,” she explains. “They deal in poverty.” Poverty has consequences for physical and mental health, educational attainment, and behavior, including interactions with police.
State Assembly Member Tim Grayson gives a high five to a child at the Mt. Diablo USDA summer event.
About 60% of California's kids qualify for free and reduced price lunch during the school year—more than 3.5 million kids. Most poor kids are in working families, with higher concentrations of poverty among Latino, African American, and indigenous students. It’s the most populous state, with high poverty in the agricultural-rich Central Valley and between Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
Chamberlain directs the California Summer Meal Coalition, a program of the Institute for Local Government. It's a statewide group of agencies brought together to understand why meal programs are underutilized. Summer meal programs are intended to fill the nutrition gap when school is out. But the Coalition finds that accessing school breakfast, lunch, and summer meals are all interconnected.
For advocates, the reasons why kids don’t get summer meals are not surprising. They include a lack of familiarity with the summer meals program, transportation issues in rural areas, hurdles for nutrition directors, safety concerns, language or communication barriers, and program cuts. But the Coalition wanted to go deeper, to understand the connected conditions for poor families in a more holistic context so they could begin to solve them. Funding support from Hunger Is focuses on developing relationships between school districts and government leaders to explore ways to increase meal participation.
Teachers and school staff are intimately aware that kids have “real stuff going on” at home. What happens outside of school hours impacts children’s access to healthy food—during the school year or summer. It could be a late or no-show bus. Or there’s an absent parent or a parent with a disability who relies on other people or an accessible bus to accompany a child to school. “They’re told their fate is set. They’re not getting that food, they are hungry kids,” Chamberlain says. “The research is all there. It affects academic success.” Summer learning loss, or the summer setback, affects both learning and wellness for low-income kids.
The Great Recession and huge cuts to summer learning programs brought a steep decline in sites willing to host the summer meals program. “City leaders maybe thought school districts had it covered. There wasn’t intentional communication between different leaders,” she continues. And that made kids more vulnerable.
Venus Johnson, Public Safety Director for the City of Oakland, reading to kids at San Pablo Library.
Many DA offices, meanwhile, have juvenile divisions that prosecute juvenile crimes, including truancy. The California State Attorney General’s office released its first report on truancy and chronic absenteeism in 2013. Low-income kids and kids of color were disproportionately affected. Truancy led to school setbacks, loss of earnings, and other lifelong impacts. Poverty is a risk factor in delinquency. Socioeconomic status is a factor in criminal prosecution, too. The consequences are higher for poor youth than affluent ones.
Chamberlain, who holds a Master’s in Public Health, saw parallels with truancy and students who were going hungry. She invited the Attorney General leadership team to be guest readers during a summer lunch service. School supplies were distributed. Law enforcement spoke about the importance of getting to school on time each day to start the day off right and for academic success. “We had perfectly aligned goals,” Chamberlain recalls. “If kids are absent or truant, they can’t access school breakfast. If there’s an issue outside of school, if they can’t get to school, they can’t access it.” And there are a million different obstacles in their path.
Law enforcement officers witness the impacts of hunger on kids and teens. It could present in survival strategies like petty thefts, acting out behavior, or selling drugs. Chamberlain recounted a police officer responding to a domestic dispute because one child ate “more than his share.” Some teens trade sex for food and efforts to combat human trafficking are increasing. Cops who see the consequences of poverty and make that connection are willing to partner on preventative work.
“I do a lot of translation,” Chamberlain says. “I do a lot of listening. I try to find what it is that we have in common [with potential stakeholders], creating a shared language that takes into account what they care about.” She’s a native Californian who peppers her speech with words like “awesome” and “incredible.” Her enthusiasm for summer meal programs is infectious. She credits her kids, ages 9 and 12, with deepening her understanding of the importance of healthy food for kids.
The Coalition tried tweaks to increase awareness and leverage new partnerships to help more kids get nutritious food in the summer. Partners tried summer kickoff events or back to school events to bring families together, have fun, and address needs. At Sun Terrace Elementary School, a community barbecue connected families to services and resources, the event featured speakers, live entertainment, library books, and taste tests of local stone fruits.
Fire department at the Mt. Diablo USD summer event.
Elected officials have few opportunities to engage working families or to meet kids. Summer meal events provide meaningful connections and a low key way to connect with whole families. The Mayor of San Pablo handed out school supplies at one event. He shook hands or patted each student on the back and wished them a great school year. Chamberlain explains: “These kids don’t interact with elected officials. When someone in a powerful position encourages you to do your best, says you matter, that’s incredibly powerful.”
Creativity and simple changes can have an impact. By adjusting the serving time of summer breakfast—making it more of a brunch—schools saw a big increase in participation, including among teens. It was an unintended outcome, but teenagers wake up later in the day and that was their breakfast time. Another school shifted a produce drop (provided through a relationship with a local food bank) to the morning to increase summer breakfast participation.
“Hunger can sometimes be a charged thing,” Chamberlain says. She believes bringing together different government agencies, including school districts, works effectively and efficiently to create healthy communities. Meal programs—like breakfast and summer meals—help offset costs so that working families can set themselves up for stability. Chamberlain says regardless of political leanings, there’s generally a “consensus to take care of our kids.”
Hunger Is, a joint charitable program of the Albertsons Companies Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), builds awareness and raises funds to end childhood hunger. The Institute for Local Government received a grant to fund efforts in California. This is the first in a WhyHunger series of profiles of grant recipients and their impact.
In honor of World Fair Trade Day, we spoke to Erika Inwald, the National Coordinator of the Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA). DFTA works to build relationships based on principles of fairness amongst farmers and farmworkers in the United States and Canada’s sustainable agriculture movement. Below, we have included information on domestic fair trade, how it impacts marginalized communities, and event details from DFTA’s World Fair Trade Day Festival!
1. How would you define domestic fair trade?
Erika Inwald: The way that the Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA) defines domestic fair trade is based on our 16 principles, which can be found here. For us, domestic fair trade means fairness and sustainability within all of agriculture. We work domestically, meaning within the United States and Canada. Our organization focuses on the importance of social justice throughout agriculture supply chains.
2. How does domestic fair trade help to empower marginalized communities, such as women, minorities, and indigenous people?
EI: Within the U.S., women, people of color, immigrants, and indigenous people are groups that have been historically marginalized due to discriminatory policies. . For [the DFTA], one of the ways that we address this historic marginalization, as well as the current injustices that exist, is by [structuring] our organization to be an example of what equity looks like. If we look at our Board structure, we have 5 sectors that are a part of the DFTA. The sectors include farmers, farmworkers, groups that represent both farmers and farmworkers, retailers, NGOs, and food intermediaries (manufacturers, distributors, and processors), as well as associate members. Each sector has two positions on our Board. Since we work by consensus, everyone has an equal say. Our Board structure helps to mirror what we believe an equitable power structure within agriculture should look like. The DFTA works towards being an open space where groups that have not had an equitable seat at the table now has that ability. We believe that putting forward frontline communities of color, indigenous communities, immigrant communities, women, and women-led organizations and supporting that kind of membership can help to empower marginalized communities.
3. What prevalence does food justice have when talking about fair trade?
EI: Food justice is very intertwined with domestic fair trade. Many communities in this country (lower-income communities, communities of color, etc.) do not have access to healthy food. The DFTA stands for promoting and creating sustainable agricultural supply chains, so that people can have better access to food. One of our members is the Food Chain Workers Alliance, who have published reports showing how food workers are often the most food insecure in the country. Creating supply chains that are fair and sustainable help to target the issue of food access. By having a platform where different stakeholders come together, the DFTA stands together to make sure that we are attacking the injustices in our agricultural food supply chains in a holistic manner, which includes access to food, right to land for all communities, fair pay, and equal treatment, respect, and dignity within the agricultural food chain supply.
4. In what ways can we promote food sustainability for small farmers?
EI: There are a lot of different ways that we can promote viability of small farmers. Supporting campaigns and initiatives where small and mid-sized farmers throughout the supply chain are organizing is a huge way to promote food sustainability for small farmers. Also, paying attention to legislation is another [big way.] The injustices in our food system were created with legislation and from the people who benefitted from these injustices. I think as active citizens, it is important that we are aware of what legislation is going on regarding food issues, [both] in your own communities, and on a national level. The last aspect is to continue to build awareness. Providing individuals with accessible resources, such as the DFTA and WhyHunger, is a major way to build awareness. Talking to one another is a way that the work that we do goes outside of our inner circle. If you have the opportunity to talk to someone about these issues who may not be aware, that is very helpful in itself.
5. What inequalities do we see amongst farmers and corporations in the Global North?
EI: Multinational corporations have so much power within the supply chain. Places like Walmart get to dictate so much of how food is produced and what food is sold because [of their size.] When you have a food supply chain where there is a power imbalance, you will have situations where it is not fair for small, or mid-sized farmers. Small and mid-sized farmers are getting squeezed at the retail level, distribution level, and at the brand level. What does that mean for farmworkers? Farmworkers are constantly invisible; however, they are essential in ensuring that everyone gets food, and is able to eat. That power imbalance exists in both the Global South and in the Global North because these large companies conduct business internationally.
On the other hand, agricultural policy in this country has been geared towards large-scale farming for a long time. Former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz’s famous saying to farmers was “Get big or get out,” and that is what’s happening. We have national policies that don’t support small and mid-sized farmers. We must advocate for them because they have been marginalized in the scale of agricultural policy, which includes farmers of color specifically because of historical discrimination in terms of loans, and land and property rights. For the DFTA, it is very important to advocate and help promote food supply chains that centers around small and mid-sized farmers. We need to find solutions that allow for equity, not just for farmers, but also equally for farmworkers.
6. What is World Fair Trade Day and why do we celebrate it?
EI: World Fair Trade Day is organized by the World Fair Trade organization and its regional subsidiaries. One of the main inspirations is to show that there are solutions to this imbalance of power that exists in the food supply chain. World Fair Trade Day is a way for us to feel a collective power in the world. There are many different ways that people are celebrating this day around the world with the same goals of a fair and sustainable food supply chain. It makes you feel as if you are working towards something bigger. Another reason why we celebrate World Fair Trade Day is to raise awareness because so many people aren't aware that there are ways to engage in trade that is fair. When we say fair trade, we don’t mean more power to corporations that are only focused on profit, we mean real sustainability and fairness within the entire food supply chain.
7. On May 20, 2017, the Domestic Fair Trade Association is hosting a Fair Day Trade Festival. Can you please tell me more about the event.
EI: We are having an event in Brooklyn, New York with the New York City Fair Trade Coalition. It is from 10 AM to 6 PM. We’re going to have different fair trade vendors, so people who will be selling apparel, accessories, food products, etc. We will also have more information on what fair trade is, and what it means to you. We will have live music and a panel featuring Kathia Ramirez from CATA, one of our members. The Fair Day Trade Festival is located at the flea market outside of P.S. 321, which is located at 180 7th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215.
The World Fair Trade Day Festival will take place on May 20th, 2017 from 10 AM to 6 PM at P.S. 321’s Flea Market (180 7th Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11215). For more information, please visit the Domestic Fair Trade Association’s Facebook page. Please check on the event page for the latest information about rain cancellations.
For Mother's Day we want to highlight women who are fighting for food sovereignty to protect their families' human rights and provide their children with the nutritious food they need. Below is an excerpt from WhyHunger's "Through Her Eyes: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty" publication which features dialogue between Yesica Ramirez and Elvira Carvajal of the Farmworkers Association of Florida, and Kathia Ramirez of CATA - Farmworkers Support Committee. They discuss the harmful effects that agrochemicals on agricultural workers and the solutions we should be striving for.
Kathia: All agricultural workers are exposed to pesticides that damage their health. In the area where we work, I have observed how women use different layers of clothing to protect against chemicals, and though all workers who work directly in the fields are at risk, I think women take more serious risks — especially if they are pregnant. The baby will be at high risk and may be born with health difficulties like a deformity or perhaps a mental problem. Or possibly the girls, who in the future would like to have families, will sometimes not have the joy of being mothers because these chemicals can cause infertility.
Elvira: Not only agricultural workers — but all of us — even those who do not work in agriculture — are exposed to chemicals, mainly in our water. Not only does it damage the water we drink, but all the animals that live in [the water], and so we’re affected again when we consume fish. Farmworkers are also affected mentally and physically; their bodies are poisoned, but also their minds and hearts because of the verbal and physical abuse they often have to deal with. The short- term symptoms [of pesticide exposure] are skin rashes, hives, itching and redness of the skin. In the medium term, it is bone pain, sometimes dizziness and a continuation of the short-term symptoms. There was one case of a woman who had just started the job and she said her knees and feet really hurt. She went home and went to bed and then began to vomit. She is still suffering from joint pains.
Yesica: I remember when we came here to the United States we started working in the plant nursery without knowing anything about chemicals. So, we wore long-sleeved shirts because we saw other people wearing them, but we did not know why. Fast forward to 2010 when I was pregnant with one of my babies. But then I heard of the Farmworker Association and I took the training they offered. I learned how to protect myself and the importance of doing so. When my child was born, she was born with many health problems. She had an underdeveloped skull, sleep apnea, and eczema. I was always at the doctor and deep down I knew this happened because of the chemicals. So, when I speak to women about the importance of protecting themselves and their children, I speak from the heart because of what happened to me. I do not want them to go through the same thing. So when I hear testimonies of women who come to me and tell me, "Look, I'm protecting myself. And now they give us water at work," you see the results you have sown. It gives me great satisfaction that the community responds in that way.
Elvira: Personally, when I worked in the fields, I lost a baby at six months. Afterwards I was informed that it was because of the chemicals I was exposed to daily at work. Right now, we know of a family living in a very large commercial nursery. It has about 6,000 employees. We sometimes find families with children, and sometimes couples who do not have children, living in the nursery. We have seen children hanging clothes outside, and about 50 or 100 feet from where they are playing is the greenhouse with the pesticides. All around them [inside the nursery] are the plants that are being treated with chemicals. So, the families and children are directly exposed and affected. We are trying to document all this information. We also remember a time when there was a hurricane here. [The Farmworker Association] visited some farms and found families living in animal stalls. We started legal processes which ended with the families being removed. So, in one way, we help people [to get out of dangerous living conditions]. But then they may no longer have housing. But if they stay in those places they are endangering their lives, so we also sometimes feel powerless to help.
Kathia: I think that in industrial agriculture everything is based on money. Farmers compete to see who makes more than the other. Agriculture is based on the model of getting rich, and not necessarily focused on the model of feeding the people, as it should be.
Elvira: I believe that the interest of industrial agriculture is to produce quantity over quality; they do not care about anyone's health. What matters to them is production and profit, and we are now trying to raise awareness that people want quality. We know that if you're eating a carrot like the ones we grab from our garden, they may not be thick or large like those sold in the store, but the taste is so different — better.
Yesica: I remember back to the time in my childhood, when we were living in the countryside. As a child I could enter the field to work and there was no danger because there were no pesticides at the time. People sold food locally or exchanged food between them. For example, someone went by in the market and said “I'll exchange peaches for guavas or tomatoes for onions.” So, that was a good thing and we had much access to food. Even though we were poor, at least we could have healthy food. Today, farmworkers have little access to healthy food. It’s cheaper for you to buy a maruchan (junk food) than to buy a kilo or a pound of some fruit because healthy food is expensive.
Kathia: CATA (Farmworkers Support Committee – CATA) participated in the public comment period for the rules protecting workers as a part of our work to reduce the use of pesticides in agricultural products. As a follow up to this initiative, we started a campaign for food justice. We think the conditions [for farmworkers] will not improve just by changing some rules. The food justice campaign is based on the need to improve our food system — not only for workers but also for consumers and farmers. Pesticides are destroying not only our people but also our planet. CATA, along with three other organizations, initiated an interest group to develop fair standards for people involved in sustainable and organic agriculture. Through those standards, we created a label of approval, a kind of certification for “just food.” It’s called Agricultural Justice Project. Part of our food justice campaign has been to expand the label and certify more and more farms to follow these rules, to produce organically using no chemicals and, more than anything, to protect and treat workers fairly. So, not only do we want to raise awareness about the label within businesses and farms, but we must also educate workers, communities, individuals, consumers and other organizations involved. Our goal is to grow the campaign and at the same time, get the support of friends and allies so that we can work together to create a fair system, especially for workers who are essential to the whole process.
As another initiative within the campaign for food justice, we have community gardens that are for the low-income community and agricultural workers to help them to eat healthier. Organic food that is free of chemicals is expensive and, with a minimum wage that is not enough to live on, low-income communities have no other option but to consume cheap and unhealthy food. So that's why CATA offers space, seeds, tools, and water for the community to grow their own organic produce. They take home the food they harvest in exchange for their time in the garden. For the rest of the community, these foods are available to buy at low prices. Our community gardens have become a place of learning and working collectively. Now we’re thinking of including trainings about making compost, growing in small spaces, increasing production, and saving seeds.
Elvira: It is sometimes difficult to do outreach to farmworkers to raise awareness about the hazards in their work areas. We use workers’ rights trainings as a way to identify different types of workplace violations, but also to provide follow-up to specific cases. We need to convince workers to make a complaint to the agency that is responsible for enforcement and encourage them to stick with it until the end, which we know will be long and hard. At first when they are in the workshops they’ll say, "Yes, we are going through with this." But when we identify violations and want to document them, sometimes the workers no longer want to. They want to change the conversation and do not want to follow-up on the case, for fear of job loss or other retaliation. It’s our job as organizers, to convince them to continue in order to stop such violations for everyone.
Kathia: I think many grassroots organizations and organizations of agricultural workers are doing a lot of organizing around the conditions of workers. Therefore, I think personal narrative and testimony is very powerful and perhaps could be a method of communication to consumers. Friends and allies can become aware of the situation from the first person point of view of someone who is facing these realities every day. Also, it helps us to start delving into how many people do not really think deeply about where their food comes from and helps us bring awareness about how essential agricultural workers are so that we can feed ourselves.
The term agroecology is a term that most agricultural workers do not use in their daily lives, yet they are familiar with the practice. Agroecology is a technical term that has emerged and is being used more often. But agroecology is what many farmworkers know as natural and organic planting, using the basic tools that do not depend on large machinery or chemicals for the growth and maturity of the plants. Some agricultural workers who were farmers and had access to land in their countries of origin used ancestral practices, and one of those practices was natural and traditional medicine. More than anything women have knowledge of natural medicine and they often prescribe certain herbs or plants for different injuries or illnesses. Last year CATA began a series of activities related to traditional herbal medicine since we know that many people who do not have legal status in this country also do not have access to good health insurance. Even though they won’t always be able to treat a disease with natural medicine, it is a relief to many in the community. As these skills are related to agroecology, they can be a source to share and connect with other organizations and other people who know about this and have the same wisdom.
Elvira: I think all mothers want our children to be well fed; we seek the best for them. I think that agroecology is a movement with principles and values for all those who care for and protect the earth. This is what we practice in the Campesinos’ Gardens with many farmworker families. The Campesinos' Gardens were started by farmworker leaders in the community of Fellsmere in 2010, and have since expanded to three additional farmworker communities. The gardens serve as agroecology demonstration sites to reclaim traditional growing knowledge, to reconnect to the natural elements in order to inspire people to live differently and better, and to exemplify potential small-scale farm economic development opportunities. The garden sites have not only increased the availability of healthy, fresh, chemical-free foods among farmworker families, but have also provided the opportunity to deepen mutually-beneficial relationships with local governments and a sister non-profit organization through collaborative, productive use of underutilized lands.
Yesica: We are mothers and as mothers we will care for our children. We are the ones that do most of the food shopping and cooking. We therefore play an important role. And there's that phrase that says 'we are what we eat,' right? Earlier, we mentioned that before people lived longer and were healthier and now children are born sick or get sick a lot. We see it every day with people who are not that old but tend to have more health issues than people who came before them. It is good to grow healthy food but also to grow awareness in the community and make the community stronger and united. Also, to capture the wisdom and pass it to the next generation. This is one of our roles as women.
Kathia: There is an urgency about passing on that wisdom — everything that our parents and our grandparents shared with us. Specifically in terms of working the land, many farmers leave their home countries because of poverty and, as a result, those towns that have a wealth of culture are disappearing. And today, it sometimes seems that young people have no interest in continuing to learn who they are, right? And the question becomes how can we come together to ensure it does not end there, that it does not die there.
Want to read more stories about women working for food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture? Download "Through Her Eyes: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty" today.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Imelda Plascencia, the consulting Health Policy Outreach Manager at Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) for the second issue of WhyHunger’s 2017 Nourishing Change Newsletter. The newsletter is broadly framed around sharing information and resources to enrich our conversations and efforts to organize for the right to food. In this May issue, the content focuses on the intersection of hunger and immigration.
We began our conversation talking about WhyHunger’s work. I explained the intent of a newsletter framed around the right to food, and how WhyHunger supports food access organizations shift from a charity model to a food justice model. Imelda had some great thoughts on charity: “Charity work is band-aid care. You’re covering the wound, not changing the circumstances that cause the injury. It’s going to happen again and charity band-aids sustain the violence and lack of access communities are experiencing, instead of transforming them. Social justice and health justice models are the answer, because they provide opportunities to change the conditions of oppression.”
Themes that ran through our conversation include the need for systemic change, and the need for organizations to address the root causes of social justice issues. Organizing and building with people and communities can be difficult for organizations, so it’s necessary to build your team with members of the community. In Imelda’s case, since LCHC is a statewide organization, the strength of their work lies in the relationships they build. As their name indicates, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California does work with the Latinx community and they also work with non-Latino communities as well because, as Imelda said, “It’s a unique lens and not the only lens.”
At Imelda’s previous position at the Dream Resource Center of the UCLA Labor Center, Imelda developed various programs with and for undocumented communities and really learned the importance of health in social justice and movement building work. Imelda said: “Mental health is so important because we are not only in a physical battle for access and protections; this is very much a psychological battle. We need to believe and remember our individual and collective strength and health allows us to see that.”
Imelda explained that the LCHC’s mission went into high gear because the ACA (Affordable Care Act) doesn’t cover undocumented people so they work with local and state partners to be a state that does. LCHC accomplishes their mission by “building advocacy for high quality, culturally relevant, and linguistically appropriate health care and prevention services; informing the public to make choices that favor better health outcomes; and empowering communities to fully participate in health planning, implementation, evaluation, and advocacy.” Imelda began to engage in health justice which is inclusive of mental health work. By addressing the inequities in quality of health care and the intersections of access to care, access to food and access to water, LCHC recognizes the systemic issues we need to address. As Imelda said: “Being undocumented, you realize your life is full of systemic barriers.” These barriers to opportunities and personal safety make it difficult for many undocumented individuals to move forward in the process of changing their status to documented resident.
Imelda went on to give examples of two clients they had spoken to --both straight males. These clients articulated the weight of the responsibility that is placed on males for the household. They talked about how they see their work as a contribution to their family and not having the option of losing that because “my family is depending on me. My risk is not for me; it’s for my entire family, for our livelihood.” Imelda went on to explain why: “The gender dynamics and those cultural expectations can be limiting to who you really are and what you want to do. The stagnation of not being able to move from where you’re at; the level of comfort and familiarity that comes with being undocumented or a permanent resident and having to come out and to share that lack of citizenship is difficult. Even though it leads to access to institutions there is a hesitance there.”
The reason Imelda shifted from working mainly on immigrant rights to health justice while still supporting immigrant rights and advocacy was because “it’s a mental battle that we’re also fighting and one of the things I always credit Maya Rodriguez, a veteran immigrant youth organizer, with saying is “We are a much stronger movement when we are a healed people.”
Imelda shared how as an undocumented person themselves, they have come in and out of depression and there is a need for health to be foundational to our social justice movement. It is a part of their strength as a people and therefore, Imelda really grounds the work in health. The fear, anxiety, and depression that immigrant communities experience continues to be highlighted in the media and Imelda urges that while yes, there is a lot of heartbreak, devastation and pain, there is also a lot of strength, courage and bravery that should be highlighted. Many undocumented individuals do not know that they’re eligible for services. It takes courage to pursue help so organizations have to be vocal about the assistance they are able to provide to their communities. Focus on keeping people informed and encouraging people to develop a plan, have the number of a lawyer, and organize. This fear and anxiety about immigration status is not new, so we need to reach those individuals and communities that haven’t felt it as heavily as others and maybe haven’t had time to process because they’re constantly working and being exploited.
Imelda went on to say: “When it comes to being supported in ideas and projects that I have, it is helpful to be a part of an organization and it is key to use the privilege and power you have in having access to resources, access to people that are in positions of power and not taking that for granted and strategically work to build together. The difference in privilege being a privilege or a burden is choice. I continuously and proactively choose to use my privilege and that’s a part of creating change.”
We wrapped up our conversation elaborating more on the connection between immigration status and health, whether undocumented or in process of getting paperwork. How health can get worse the longer you’re in the U.S. and the stressors that go along with that. Imelda explained that when it comes to health justice, there are 3 layers:
● Health in a clinical setting, in terms of access and what care is provided
● Health access in terms of access to food and water
● Mental health
All are intertwined. What is taking place in the current political climate is definitely impacting the health of immigrant communities and Imelda shared about hearing stories from their clinic partners about individuals coming in with stomach pains and elsewhere in their body and how when they run tests, they find that there is nothing physically wrong with them. The physical pain is a sign of the inner turmoil happening and the emotional and mental distress being caused by high tension and high levels of stress. Of course, this includes family members such as children being scared to go to school because of the thought that when they come home their parents will no longer be there, having been detained.
Imelda commented that the idea that people are trying to take advantage of the system when they are the scapegoats of economic uncertainty in the United States is ridiculous. Imelda concluded by saying: “To me that shows that we [the immigrant community] are very powerful. I never saw documentation as a means to liberation; it’s a means for basic human rights. It is access to basic needs; access to healthcare, water, food. The work with communities around health is for us as a people, as community members, for our families. The work is to provide people with what they already deserve.”
The answer is, very. I came to this conclusion after a recent trip to Detroit, MI, also known as the “motor city.” I was there to attend the Detroit Food 2017 Summit and participate in WhyHunger’s Midwest Gathering of emergency food providers who came together to discuss the emergency food system and think about how we can collectively transform it to one that focuses on long-term solutions and is socially just, to truly end hunger. With that purpose in mind, learning about using narrative change as a strategy to achieve that transformation was a key activity. Narrative, or stories, influence our perspectives on every issue, including our view of hunger and poverty, and we hear them every day, be it through the media, friends, family, coworkers, books, etc. As we take in news we should think about the words used, how they were said, who is saying them and why.
Think about the stories you’ve heard of about Detroit. Now, what immediately comes to mind? Perhaps bankruptcy? Abandoned homes? Urban? Poor? Well, I’d like to help shift that narrative a bit by giving examples of a resilient community, thriving businesses, urban gardens and hope. Below, are the community-led organizations and businesses I got to learn a little about during my time in Detroit. Hopefully, even as short summaries, they leave you as inspired as I was.
Resident Mark Covington started The Georgia Street Community Collective (GSCC) in 2008. Originally, it was meant to be a beautification project but as they cleaned up the empty lots in the neighborhood Mark became inspired to start a community garden. He wanted to help the elders in the area who struggle to pay for both medicine and food, and empower the youth and provide them with structure. GSCC is achieving that by focusing on health, education, leadership skill development and protection to rebuild and sustain their community one house at a time. They offer school supply giveaways, holiday dinners, Easter egg hunts and more – all free to residents. They sell honey and eggs, and one of their goals is to have a fully functional greenhouse by next year. You can give a donation or learn more here.
Located in Detroit’s Hope District, Detroit Friends Potato Chips. Co. is a wonderful example of a locally-grown, sustainable business that gives back. So wonderful in fact, that Oprah even knows about them! Detroit Friends is the brainchild of Michael Wimberley who wanted to renew his relationship with the earth and think about ways he could help fix Detroit’s economy by creating work and opportunity for those around him. Detroit Friends started growing potatoes on a vacant lot and soon realized making potato chips could be the right business model for them. Mike enrolled in a food lab business incubator, and after many tries and failed experiments; their potato chip was born. Their story caught attention of Oprah Winfrey and in 2016 they made it into Oprah’s Favorite Things list. Mike’s advice, “Be entrepreneurial, and never give up.” Detroit Friends gives back to the community by sourcing their Russet potato from a 3rd-generation farmer in MI and has become a community hub by having a soup kitchen and senior program. Order these delicious chips here, I personally recommend the Lemon Pepper flavor :)
Last, but certainly not least, is the woman-owned The Farmer’s Hand located in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Founded by Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya, The Farmer’s Hand is part grocery, part café, and part farmers market that is dedicated to selling 100% locally grown and produced goods. As Kiki explained to us, they believe in growing agriculture in Michigan and helping farmers earn a living wage to create a better ecosystem. Developing personal relationships with farmers and telling their stories is essential, so people know where their food came from. They have over 100 different partners, 70 cents of each dollar goes directly back to their partners and they focus on providing seasonal, culturally appropriate foods. Check out their website to learn more and be sure to visit next time you’re in Detroit!
After reading a little about these community groups and organizations, I hope now when you hear “Detroit” you think about something different - the amazing people, thriving small businesses, food justice and self-determining communities. We should all think critically and evaluate the different narratives we hear and challenge ourselves to speak up or add new perspectives to conversations when we can.
School Lunch is under attack from policies of “shaming” kids who can’t pay to an Administration that opts to loosen nutrition standards on School Lunch rather than help find solutions for schools to meet those standards, the nutritious school food that tens of millions of American children rely on is in jeopardy. We couldn’t agree more with our Board member Jan Poppendieck, quoted in today’s New York Times “We need to provide school meals on the same basis on which we provide school transportation and textbooks!” We know that school meals offering nutritious food are a key element to the academic success and physical health of our children.
Let’s stand up for all our children and their right to nutritious food! Fellow organizations, you can take action with us via the Food Research and Action Center and sign-on to support bills that will outlaw school lunch shaming! The bills would end the practices of marking — or otherwise identifying — students who owe school lunch debt, of requiring them to do chores, or of taking food away once it has been served.