By Tracy Weatherby, VP of Community Engagement & Policy

Each year, Feeding America (the nation’s food bank network) and the Food Research Action Center organize the Anti-Hunger Conference in Washington, D.C. This is an amazing opportunity for our Community Engagement & Policy Team to share with our peers and learn how to leverage federal nutrition programs. We also get to recharge our batteries and advocate in front of lawmakers.

We need to protect federal programs that feed our clients. Second Harvest feeds over 260,000 people each month, and we reach this number with the help of federal programs. For every meal that the Feeding America network provides, 12 meals are provided by SNAP, the federal grocery assistance program (called CalFresh in California). Also, students need school and summer meals to live their best lives.

The current administration threatened cuts to CalFresh in the Farm Bill until they were defeated in Congress. Since then, they have tried to implement similar cuts through regulations. In D.C., we spent a day reminding representatives that these assistance programs keep people healthy and local economies strong.

Our team met with the staffs of Senators Feinstein and Harris and Representatives Ro Khanna and Jackie Speier. We also spoke personally with Representatives Zoe Lofgren, Anna Eshoo and Jimmy Panetta. They all showed the knowledge and will to defend these important programs. In many meetings, we worked together with partners at the California Association of Food Banks and the Western Center for Law & Poverty.

Serving on the Agriculture Committee, Rep .Jimmy Panetta is a fierce advocate for feeding people and protecting CalFresh.

Over the next few years, we will be advocating for universal school meals. Our country has made a commitment to educate our children – and we should ensure that those children are nourished. Kids who need a free-and-reduced-price meal often feel a sense of shame, but universal school meals create a sense of community around enjoying healthy food.

It was energizing to learn with our peers and advocate with our wonderful representatives. We look forward to working together with our partners to end hunger in our communities.