Last weekend I met with the leadership team of Fencers Do Good whose members will be volunteering at the Pantry during their national championships in July. After the tour, they asked me, “What do you really need?” That gave me pause. The obvious answers are more food, more money to buy food, volunteers to distribute the food. We do need all that. But if we really want to reduce food insecurity we need living wages, affordable housing, adequate health care; a better safety net. That means policy change and that requires Advocacy – contacting legislators to ask them to support such legislation. You can find opportunities to make your voice heard on the Pantry Facebook page, or by joining the Anti-Hunger Advocacy Network at the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

But you don’t have to wait for alerts or legislation to make your voice heard. You can make a difference every day. Through my work with WhyHunger, I have learned that storytelling and the language we use are important to change the way people view hunger and food insecurity. If we tell stories that help disrupt commonly held views –  like the bootstrap mythology that frames hunger as an individual problem to be addressed with individual solutions –  we can collectively begin to think differently about hunger as a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions. The more stories that we all tell that are actively working to build an understanding of that systemic narrative, the more likely it is that we will collectively be ready to embrace and support systemic solutions to hunger. This plays out in how we adopt policies, set strategies and hold our elected officials accountable.

Stories can tug at the heart strings or use numbers to make an impact. You may have heard some of my stories:

  • Nobody grew up dreaming of needing a food pantry to help them get by.”
  • “There’s a grandmother who comes every week to get food since she gained custody of her grandsons and her budget doesn’t stretch far enough to buy all the food that two teenage boys need.”
  • “In Ohio a person earning minimum wage takes home about $1400 per month. In the BSPC neighborhood, rent and utilities are $1050 per month leaving that person with just $350 for all their other expenses.”
  • “85% of the Pantry food budget is spent on meat, milk, eggs and produce – things people most need for healthy eating but also the things they can least afford at the grocery.”

Share these or come volunteer in the pantry and write your own story.

Language can be used to stigmatize people living in poverty or receiving assistance. There is no shortage of words that pass judgement on those living in poverty, in need of support or relying on safety net services.  Often those words paint poverty as an individual failure. Choosing the right word can be challenging – do we “serve”, “provide food” or “support”? Are the people who come to the pantry “clients”, ”under-privileged”, “shoppers” or “neighbors”? Words make a difference.

Providing direct services is a valuable kind of advocacy. Providing food to families in need is taking action to help others and therefore engaging in advocacy. When a shopper thanks you, you see the importance of providing food. And you learn stories you can tell to impact change.

The most effective way to reduce the lines of cars at the Food Pantry is to address these root causes of hunger. Your everyday advocacy can help bring about that change.


-Written by Kathy Kelly-Long, Director of the Broad Street Food Pantry

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  1. Jean Atwood May 23, 2024 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    So thorough and well said. Thank you Kathy!

  2. Susan Toney May 23, 2024 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    Wow Kathy, well said! Amen!

  3. Bill Kelley May 23, 2024 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    I appreciated the paragraph, “Language can be used to stigmatize people living in poverty or receiving assistance.” I’ll be more thoughtful of my language.
    Thank you for the blog.
    Bill Kelley

  4. Martha Campbell May 24, 2024 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Amen to Jean’s comment!

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