A Reflection from HFO’s Executive Director Chris Bernard
On September 28, I had the honor of representing Hunger Free Oklahoma at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, the second such conference in history. Attending the conference was an amazing experience. However, I (like many who participated in-person or virtually) have been working to process what this moment means for the anti-hunger movement, for transformative change, and to translate commitments to action.
It will take all of us to end hunger, not just the corporate sector, not just the non-profit sector, and not just government. Too often we put each of these sectors in their own silos and talk about the solutions they can offer. That sort of thinking will not work to solve a large problem. We will need to leverage the strengths of each sector to achieve our goal.
Groups like HFO must continue to partner with governments to effectively connect people to resources and expand the reach of those efforts; we must commit to holding our government partners accountable to removing barriers and bring them evidence for why change is needed.
Government partners at every level need to be willing to innovate to build stronger and larger public-private partnerships and to scale programs that are proven effective. This also means that law makers and the executive branch must be willing to authorize new programs and approaches, allocate resources, and take decisive action to prioritize this issue.
The corporate world must be willing to do more than donate money or food, both of which are crucial, but do not sufficiently address the root causes of hunger. Corporate partners must be willing to look internally and externally and ask how they contribute to the problem of food insecurity and how they are best situated to address it systemically. For instance, corporate leaders could commit to paying higher wages, providing paid leave for all employees, and providing affordable health benefits.
The day was historic, it was energizing, it was overdue, and it is a launching point.
While this conference has united our nation in the call to end hunger, it will be impossible with the cooperation of only a few hundred people. The commitments, strategies, and end goal laid out during this conference are all dependent on Congress and state legislators allocating resources, passing new legislation, and approving budgets that will support the goal to end hunger. This is exactly why we must start and end with accountability.
Hunger Free Oklahoma made two public commitments as part of the White House Conference. The first is to expand Double Up Oklahoma to all 77 counties in Oklahoma by 2028 and the second is to have a collaborative and cohesive statewide WIC Outreach plan designed in cooperation with the state agency and the sovereign tribes that administer WIC in Oklahoma. Success will require multiple government agencies, elected leaders, for-profit companies, and non-profit partners to work together to achieve a shared goal. We must collaborate, we must leverage each other’s strengths, we must build new public-private partnerships, and we must grow our coalitions beyond the expected in order to end hunger by 2030.
HFO made our commitments because we believe that they are achievable, that they are crucial to ending hunger in our state, and because we wanted to be held to account. We want to show partners and elected officials that we ask to take bold votes and support bold action that we lead by example. We remain committed to putting every ounce of effort into ending hunger in Oklahoma, but we need them to do their part.
All these reflections lead me to a conclusion that many of you and many of us at HFO have known for some time. Ending Hunger requires resources, and the most effective solution is to put those resources directly into the hands of people experiencing food insecurity. Every person deserves to make their own choices of what food they purchase and when they need it, while also being able to cover other basic needs for themselves and their families. Big impacts require bold decisions and resources matter. We invite all of you to join us by making your own commitments, holding us accountable to our commitments, and most importantly, holding decision makers accountable to prioritizing the issue and dedicating appropriate resources to the solutions.