Picnic Project Goes to Washington
We joined delegates from all over the country for an Advocacy Summit in DC
Food security is a huge, complex challenge for our country and all around the world. Picnic
Project is, and always will be, committed to meeting the needs of our neighbors and working locally to build community health and vibrant food systems. We are also believers in advocating for policy change, funding and awareness of bills and initiatives that address hunger- and poverty-alleviation on a large scale, to accomplish more than we ever could from a charity focus alone.
As part of these advocacy efforts, Picnic Project board member Rebekah Richey and I, Mark, recently had the opportunity to participate in the 2023 Advocacy Summit: Power of Perseverance convened by Bread for the World in Washington, DC. The Advocacy Summit is held each year to carry a collective voice through the halls of Congress to advocate for policies that address hunger to give struggling families a chance at a healthy and prosperous life.
This year the focus was on the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which happens every five years. A huge piece of omnibus legislation, the bill encompasses SNAP (food stamps), crop subsidies and insurance, international food relief, food waste prevention, and many other essential programs.
On Lobby Day, we joined hundreds of advocates who met with a total of 171 members of Congress from 34 states and 104 congressional districts.
Before we visited Capitol Hill, we attended talks with experts, legislative briefings, advocacy training, and meetings with other folks from our region. Some of the speakers we heard from included Bread President and CEO Eugene Cho, North Carolina Rep. Donald G. Davis and Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III, the Executive Director of Black Church Food Security Network.
One of the standouts for me was our keynote speaker - United States Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, one of the people in DC with the most influence on our food and nutrition policies. He was informative and sharp, but most of all he was sincere and moving, especially when he spoke of his time growing up in an orphanage. “People who cared about me, fed me, and there’s no greater connection than that,” he recalled, fueling his belief in the power of community and that policy is all about the people. Furthermore, he asserted that we are all beneficiaries of nutrition programs - as they create stability, national security, a vibrant economy and a healthy, productive citizenry.
“There is no ‘other’. There’s us. When are we going to learn?” - U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilasack
After we were informed and inspired, Rebekah and I headed to the Dirksen Senate Building along with other Florida advocates to meet with Caitlin Moore, a Legislative Correspondent for Senator Marco Rubio. She listened intently as we told stories, shared statistics and concerns, and advocated for “hunger-centric laws and policies in the Farm Bill that would move our nation and world closer to the end of hunger*”.
Heading over to the House side, where Rebekah and I had an appointment with Jaylene Kennedy, Congressman Cory Mill’s Junior Legislative Assistant. While waiting for her to wrap up another meeting, the congressman happened to come into the waiting area. We asked if we could introduce ourselves, and that turned out to be a lengthy conversation. Impressed with his willingness to engage with us and we ended up finding quite a bit of common ground on food and nutrition issues.
We will be following up with all of our representatives with in-district meetings, phone calls, letters, and emails. Moving the needle on national policy is a long road, and we are building relationships with our representatives so that they know this is important to us and our community. If you have any questions or would like to join us in our advocacy efforts, please email email@example.com.
Of course, while in DC, I did take some time to do some sightseeing and check out the food scene. One highlight was the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, which was amazing and beautiful, while at the same time sobering and disturbing. Definitely worth a visit if you are in Washington.
I also enjoyed meals at Jaleo and Succotash, each by chefs who are deeply involved in food justice work - José Andrés (World Central Kitchen) and Edward Lee (Lee Initiative). DC is a great place to find delicious food and both of these are a good place to start. If you want more recommendations, ask me!
A big thank you to Florence French-Fagan, our amazing Southeast Organizer for Bread for the World, for her advocacy work, support of Picnic Project, encouragement, and arranging for us and many more to make the trip.
For more photos, check out our DC photo album!