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Food Is A Human Right: The Y in the Movement Against Hunger

When thinking about food, we think about the vital role it plays in our society. Food is sustenance for the body and mind. It is necessary for growth and development, providing healthy nutrients in our day-to-day lives. It is also culture and tradition, connecting and bringing people together no matter what the social circumstances. Ultimately, food is a human right

At the Y, we are committed to building strong communities where anyone can be, belong and become. We want our communities to thrive in spaces where equitable access is provided to ensure a sustainable future. In order to do so, food (among many things) must be a part of the conversation, especially during a time in which we see our communities heavily impacted by food insecurity amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic compounded with the global effects of climate change. While we have been a part of the movement against hunger, we understand and recognize that this goes beyond our organization. It requires the work and commitment of partnerships with community-based organizations, advocates and members as well as our local and national elected officials. 

But what is food insecurity and what does it look like? What are the ways in which we can make sure everyone has access to healthy and affordable food?

Food Insecurity: Hunger Has No Face

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as "a condition in which a household has limited or no consistent and reliable access to affordable, nutritious food." It is a major contributing factor to the ongoing national hunger crisis that continues to affect more and more people across our communities – a reminder that “hunger has no face,” and those struggling with food insecurity and hunger aren’t just unhoused, uneducated, in poverty, lack access to healthcare, or systemically marginalized. Hunger can affect anyone. 

“[It] is not a COVID era problem. For too long, we have seen seniors making decisions about whether to buy medicine or buy food. We’ve got parents who are skipping meals so that they can feed their children and we have the kids who are struggling to focus and learn in school when they have inadequate nutrition. For too long, we’ve seen the high cost and lack of availability of fresh, nutritious foods in areas of our community and where families have had to choose between health and calories. -Sean Brooks, Chief Programs Officer, SF Marin Food Bank 

“[That’s why] with [the YMCA of San Francisco 2030 Vision and its] mission to build healthy, equitable and sustainable communities for all generations, we’re bringing together the San Francisco Marin Food Bank, [our] staff and board, volunteers and local government officials to increase awareness and inspire action to end hunger and improve nutrition amongst our most vulnerable residents and families at the local level.” -Takija Gardner, SVP of Government Relations, YSF

Lauren Clapperton, Senior Executive Director, Stonestown Family YMCA

Community and National Partnerships

While some of our food pantries began before the COVID-19 pandemic, our Stonestown Family YMCA’s food pantry began in response to it – making it the second most used location in San Francisco that feeds about 800 households every week. Where we saw a growing, immediate need in our communities, we continued taking steps in the movement against hunger. We know that it is a problem that cannot be solved without collective action coming from across different sectors of our society. 

“[The day of service event], in partnership with the White House [Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health], represents not just one but many food pantries across San Francisco. The pantry also represents the Y’s commitment to ensuring that all have a right to a dignified existence. -Jamie Bruning-Miles, President & CEO, YSF 

“San Francisco is not shy of taking bold and audacious moves because we join with President Biden and the rest of this country to say, ‘We need to end poverty. We need to make sure that children and families have access to healthy foods. That we understand the importance of nutrition and physical activities for our children and families.' In San Francico, we’ve done that.” -Maria Su, City & County of San Francisco, Department of Children, Youth and Families 

“A bag of groceries, unfortunately, is not going to address the root causes of hunger – those are structural and systemic, and we must address the systemic racism embedded in so many policies in our country. This is not going to be a quick fix. The public and private sectors must work together to strengthen and change programs and policies while ensuring no one falls through the cracks.” -Sean 

While partnerships are important and needed, there are various ways people can get involved. After all, each of us has a role to play and it cannot be done without one another. To be in community is to also be with community – working together to build a better future.

Join The Movement

“I’m a member of the YMCA for about 12 years. I'm a board member and we have opportunities for doing volunteering as board members and this one just seemed to be the one I wanted to do... We see people that are exercising at the Y – they come out to the parking lot, they see that this is going on, they too become interested. We really deal with the local community.” -Kathy, Board Member, YSF 

Learning about this issue and raising awareness is just the first step in the ongoing movement to end hunger and ensure food for all. Getting involved can look like advocating for programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or universal school meals; it can look like volunteering with SF Marin Food Bank or any YSF food pantry; it can look like donating to community-based organizations and mutual aid; it can also look like writing or emailing local and national elected officials to advocate for policy changes. Whatever it may be, start the conversation, share this information and join the movement today. Because food is a human right – you never know who needs help and support. To learn more,

Photos and Video from the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health: YSF Partner-Led Satellite Event

Click Photo Below to Watch Video