June 9, 2022

More than 50 years have passed since the  the White House  convened a conference that helped elevate hunger as a national priority and sparked major improvements and expansions to the federal nutrition programs.

This September, the White House will host a Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. Now is the time to demonstrate with policy change and other actions that ending hunger in America remains a national priority.

FRAC, along with other national anti-hunger organizations have underscored five priorities for the conference:

  • Be centered on addressing poverty-related hunger and its root causes;
  • Engage people with lived experience and expertise in hunger, poverty, and nutrition program participation in meaningful ways;
  • Build and leverage political will by convening cross-sector stakeholders to build widespread and bipartisan support for ending hunger;
  • Focus on reducing racial, ethnic, and other disparities in food insecurity; and
  • Create a roadmap to end hunger and improve nutrition in America by 2030

To ensure these priorities are put into the forefront during the conference, FRAC nominated several people to speak about  their lived experiences with hunger during a series of virtual, regional listening sessions  hosted by the White House. They shared their stories and recommendations during these sessions.

In a blog series, we will share the remarks  of a few of the advocates who spoke during these sessions. To join future  listening sessions this June, sign up here.

Chelsi Rhoades, FRAC’s Root Causes and Special Populations Intern

Chelsi Rhoades,  spoke at the Midwest and Mountain Plains regional listening session. Chelsi currently is an intern with FRAC and plans to launch a career focused on supporting the health and well-being of people struggling with poverty.

Here are her remarks:

“Hello everyone, my name is Chelsi Rhoades and I am very honored to be here to talk about my experience. I am 21 years old, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University, and current intern at the Food Research & Action Center. My experience with food insecurity began in my childhood, when I grew up in a working poor family outside of Dayton, Ohio. This started in 2009 when my mom was laid off from her job at a General Motors assembly plant and was unable to find a job for several years. As the primary caregiver for her four daughters, we became financially unstable and food insecure. Luckily, my family had support from federal nutrition programs, including SNAP and free school meals based on my mom’s income.

I vividly remember the day that our SNAP card came in the mail, and we finally made our first trip in a few weeks to the grocery store because my parents could finally afford the basics. Our Ohio EBT card enabled us to eat more dinners at home instead of at my great-grandma’s house, and provided some food security for my parents who were regularly sacrificing their own health to make sure my sisters and I did not go hungry. However, this was not remembered as a happy day for my family, as my parents felt the shame and stigma of needing help from food stamps for the first time. My family continued to use SNAP for about a year until my mom found a new job, and my sisters and I continued to remain eligible for free lunch at school.

Although SNAP and free school meals may not seem significant in the grand scheme of things, I know that these programs helped provide the tools for me to grow, learn, succeed academically, and eventually earn my college scholarships. However, it is also apparent to me that federal nutrition programs cannot solve hunger alone. I was also supported by great public educators, stable housing, adequate healthcare, a Federal Pell grant, and other scholarships and financial aid in order to graduate college without debt.

Although I was able to graduate high school, college and start pursuing my career, I am still the exception within my family and community and often witness many of my friends and family members struggle to access affordable and nutritious food. I continue to help my younger sister access WIC for my niece, my dad access SNAP, and others within my community access federal nutrition programs. I also continue to see many college students struggle to afford food, but are often not eligible for assistance due to their status as students.

As I reflect on my journey, I hope that my story provides one of many perspectives that show the importance of federal nutrition programs in our communities. I hope you also take away that program participants do not aspire to rely on government assistance for their health and well-being, but want to become healthy, self-sustaining members of society like everyone else. Thank you again for giving me this space to share my story, and I encourage you to consider further investing in our federal nutrition programs, including increasing access and benefit adequacy for SNAP households.”