Recently a dream was realized for Texas Hunger Initiative’s founder and director, Jeremy Everett, as new employees came together at the central Office in Waco for an orientation to prepare them to tackle hunger at the local level. What was once a one-man organization has grown to close to 100 employees positioned across the state.
It is an unprecedented expansion spanning from Amarillo in the north to McAllen in the south, with a total of 12 regional offices. In fewer than five years since its founding as a grassroots movement, The Texas Hunger Initiative has extended its reach into cities state wide, working not only for communities in need, but directly alongside of them. It is an innovative strategy, connecting people at the local, state and national levels in order to get food on the tables of those who need it most.
Each of the regional offices will operate a food planning association in their community, bringing community leaders, food bank and food pantry representatives and—perhaps most importantly—those living in hunger together to access local food systems. They identify the resources available to them and the gaps that are keeping all community members from being food secure. While the size of the task at hand may seem daunting, each regional office, led by a regional director, has a team of staff members to help them face the challenge. Child hunger outreach specialists target hungry children through programs such as school breakfasts and summer meals. AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) work to establish relationships and bring the community to the table to discuss the issues at hand, as well as establish partnerships. Others lead different sectors of food outreach, from healthy meals to senior adult campaigns.
THI’s orientation brought these teams together in person for the first time—a diverse group with a broad range of experience and areas of expertise, including a former food bank director, a public policy advocate, a public relations professional and even a mathematician. A common cause had united a room full of people who otherwise may have never met. There was excitement for the task ahead, and some nervousness, understandably. This was a big move—many were relocating to different cities.
It is a big move for THI, as well, with great potential impact. Duke Storen, Director of Partner Impact at Share Our Strength, spoke at the orientation, saying that “all eyes are on Texas,” and the work being done here to end hunger. The models and strategies put in place here, if shown to be successful, could one day be replicated throughout the United States.
In the first full group session at THI’s orientation, Everett discussed the civil rights movement, and how those from that time are defined by what they did or did not do to help. Today, he says, that defining moment is poverty and hunger. The direction THI and Texas takes could define future approaches in other states to ending hunger and poverty. It’s with a great sense of responsibility that we acknowledge: all eyes are on us.
Written by: Ashley Yeaman, Communications Coordinator, Texas Hunger Initiative
Photo by: Stuart Seeger, Creative Commons