“We can’t food bank our way out of poverty” is a quote I came by some time ago and I believe it’s correct, though not every food bank employee or volunteer agrees with that statement. It doesn’t mean we aren’t essential. Sadly, food banks meet a critical need for far too many food-insecure households. We can help with one of the symptoms of poverty—hunger—for the day or week of a client’s visit, but we are unlikely to help that household move out of poverty. Ending poverty will be a very long journey that will involve all sectors of society, and will require massive change to many systems.
At our food bank, we are continuing to learn more about the root causes of hunger and poverty. While doing this work, we want to see how we can impact these sources and become educators about both causes and helpful interventions. We are paying increased attention to issues of housing, healthcare, childcare, and race. While there are many tools to help reduce poverty, there are multiple larger barriers in place that keep people from exiting poverty in a lasting way.
Recently, I’ve been particularly excited about Washington’s
Paid-Family Leave Law
which became available to employees at the start of 2020. Essentially it will provide up to 16 weeks of leave for those wanting to take time off to care for a new infant or other family member in need. Employees will receive up to 90% of their wage or up to $1,000 per week.
Food Insecurity is about more than food; it’s about being able to afford all of one’s basic needs. The more we work toward an equitable society, the less people will rely on food banks. BFB began offering paid parental leave a few years ago and we are proud to have done so. Sure it costs money, but it is also the right thing to do and mirrors what many other countries do. We also pay all of our employees what is considered a living wage in Whatcom County. Being a good employer is one major way we work toward ending poverty and giving people access to the basics. I believe access to food, housing, healthcare, and education are rights that should be available to all—not just the privileged.
This new law has nothing specifically to do with hunger or food banking, but it is one of many interventions that can help keep people from needing a food bank. What policies, programs, or initiatives have you seen that can help reduce or move people from poverty?