Dan Maher, the FRFB's new President & CEO, shares more thoughts about hunger in our region and the post-COVID impact on food insecurity.
What are the similarities/differences in hunger challenges in PD16 versus your previous district?
The section of Texas where my previous food bank is located has a much higher percentage of its population affected by poverty and food insecurity than is ordinarily the case here. Consequently, the ordinary demands for that food bank’s services are high at all times. It also tends to be prone to natural disasters in recent years, with four major tropical systems and other types of disasters affecting the area in my seven years at the food bank. Unfortunately for this area, though, the impact of COVID has elevated food insecurity here, so demand for our services is high right now and likely will be for years to come. A key similarity is that the work of hunger relief all around the nation is highly volunteer-driven and many of those volunteers are senior citizens. That aging of the core volunteer pool puts a strain on distribution channels everywhere and makes it challenging to have enough community partners who can join in the work of food distribution to make our operations as strong as they need to be.
What will be the post-COVID impact on the food back and the people we serve?
The economic impacts of the Great Recession a decade or so ago were so deeply felt that it changed some of our nation’s hunger relief from an emergency focus to a network of care focus. Similarly, I suspect the post-COVID world will require a safety net to be in place for many people long after the virus has been controlled. Because of that, we will need this food bank and food banks around the country to be well resourced for years to come.
What do you think is the greatest challenge to ending hunger?
I would say it is common to believe that an ample supply of food produced is the solution to hunger. Obviously, there is a strong correlation, but there is much more that goes into the equation of fighting hunger. The food produced has to be distributed and shared with those in need in a timely fashion. The logistics involved in that are enormous and sometimes impossible. Because we live in a land of plenty, it seems maybe the greatest challenge is getting people to be aware of the degree of hunger within our own nation. About 1 in 8 people are affected by food insecurity nationally and about 1 in 10 are affected in our own region. I think that data often surprises people. It seems more awareness of the reality of hunger in our midst can help solve some of the disconnect that exists between producing food and actually providing food.
What do you think is the most common misconception about hunger?
One big misperception is that those who are obese must be frequently overeating and are not at all affected by hunger. Sometimes, people’s weight challenges stem from the fact that they are not accessing the right kinds of food, so the food they are eating is exceedingly high in calories. For others, their access to food is so sporadic or uncertain, when they do have access to food they overeat because they can’t be sure when they will have food again. Both are sad circumstances that point to proper nutrition as a core health issue and not just a food-related issue.
What is the most recent book that you have read?
Wait, What? And Life's Other Essential Questions by James Ryan. It is actually a short book shared with food bank CEOs within the Feeding America network by the CEO of Feeding America to remind us to be questioners and listeners first and foremost before too quickly jumping to solutions and conclusions.