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As I write this, we are anxiously awaiting the US Senate to pass President Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation. It’s important that this passes, as it calls for the continuation of the Child Tax Credit program that has been instrumental in helping US families rise out of poverty.
So, why is the founder of a renewable energy company writing about food
That’s easier to answer than you might think. Our business model is centered
around circularity — from farm to table, and food waste back to the farm — where
it’s mixed with agriculture waste (manure) to make renewable natural gas. Food
insecurity is also circular — except it is a vicious form of circularity, where
those that face food insecurity also face poverty; and that cycle, for many,
never ends. If we don’t help our neighbors break that cycle now, we could lose a
whole generation of Americans.
Last year, I wrote about the large-scale food insecurity
our country faced due to the pandemic. At the time, Feeding America
estimated that 17 million children are among the more than 50 million people who
potentially could face hunger due to COVID-19.
Food insecurity is taking a toll on our young people and their success in the
classroom. All studies show that children do better academically in school when
they are nourished. In-person education helps our teachers understand who might
be facing food insecurity at home; with distance learning, students miss out on
the free breakfasts and lunches they usually receive and the attention from the
teachers who can elevate their needs.
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When I spoke to Oregon Food Bank CEO
Susannah Morgan for that article, she noted that “we are in a 100-year flood
of hunger.” 2020 was a year of constant struggles for our service providers
around the country that work to feed those in need.
The task of feeding US families during the pandemic has fallen onto the
shoulders of our food banks. From coast to coast, these service providers moved
mountains and found ways to get food into the hands of those that needed it most
— all while doing this with less help, depleting financial resources, and facing
their own challenges and risks.
In 2020, the team at Vanguard Renewables knew
that we had to do something to help our local community. So, we partnered with
Dairy Farmers of America’s Farmers Feeding
Families to distribute 17,000
gallons of whole milk to families in Massachusetts and Rhode Island over
four weeks. This was a meaningful way for us to give back to our communities.
2021 saw improvement for many of those facing pandemic-induced food insecurity.
In the first week of 2022, I asked Andrew Schiff — CEO of the Rhode Island
Community Food Bank (RICFB), which has 150 member
agencies — what he saw as the driving force behind this improvement.
“Things got much better in 2021, because of the response of the Biden
Administration and the quick action of Congress,” he said. “Federal programs
like the increased unemployment benefits, increased Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and the child tax credit put money in
the hands of the individuals that needed it the most. They now could go to the
grocery store and purchase food. These programs had a direct correlation to the
decreased number of visitors to our state’s food pantries.”
As 2021 began, I wrote that we were unsure of what would happen with the
expanded unemployment and SNAP benefits; thankfully, Congress expanded these
programs. However, the increased unemployment benefits ended in September, the
child tax credit program ended in December, and it’s believed that additional
SNAP benefits will end sometime this spring. If Congress doesn’t act soon, those
facing food insecurity in 2019 will be back in the same position.
I recently reached out to Morgan again, to get her perspective on how 2021 went
and where we’re going. Morgan shared, “During 2019, we were serving 860,000
individuals; at the peak of the pandemic, we were serving 1.7 million
individuals. However, last year, we saw that number drop to around 1 million.”
I asked her what she thought the drop resulted from, and her response was very
similar to Schiff’s: “Public investment. The stimulus checks, additional
unemployment benefits, supplemental SNAP benefits, eviction moratoriums, and the
additional child tax credits. All these public investments made a difference in
preventing hunger from staying at those 2020 levels.”
As I write this, we are anxiously awaiting the US Senate to pass President
Biden’s “Build Back Better”
legislation. It’s important that this passes, as it calls for the continuation
of the Child Tax Credit program that has been instrumental in helping US
families rise out of poverty.
The expanded Child Tax Credit program was a game-changer for US families in
need. These funds helped families keep food on their tables and assisted with
as parents re-entered the workforce or went back into their offices. The Center
on Poverty & Social Policy at Columbia University
estimates that these benefits kept 3.8 million children from poverty in November
alone. With month after month of falling poverty rates because of these
additional benefits since July, it felt like a step back when they ended in
December of 2021.
With COVID-19 still raging across the globe and ongoing disruptions in supply
chains, these things are creating a perfect storm for our country’s food banks.
If we don’t pass this once-in-a-generation piece of legislation, it will strain
the poorest and hungriest in the US — at a time when there’s no end in sight to
When I asked both Schiff and Morgan what they saw as the challenges for the year
ahead, they shared a similar sentiment — inflation.
“With the rising costs of food, the individuals that are feeling this hit the
most are families who are on the margins,” Schiff said. “In New England, these
families are trying to figure out how to pay for the high cost of heat, the rent
and feeding their families.”
“What worries me most is the purchasing power of individuals with lower incomes.
The single most extensive anti-hunger program in this country is SNAP, which
pumps billions of dollars into people’s pockets who don’t have enough money to
purchase groceries. If the benefits don’t increase, it may mean a family can
only have enough funds for three weeks instead of four, or even worse, only two
weeks,” Morgan explained. “It’s important to note that these benefits provide a
significant return on this public investment. Those dollars go back into our
communities at our markets and grocery stores. The research shows that every
SNAP dollar spent provides $1.79 worth of economic input into a community and
the ancillary jobs supported by the retail food industry.”
Like food banks around the country, each shared that they have seen a
significant decrease in support from their “regular” partners — such as grocery
stores and food producers. The pandemic has led to more of us eating at home and
not dining out, which has caused a drastic decrease in the amount of readily
available food in the supply chain.
When I asked Morgan and Schiff what we could do to help end hunger, the answer
was the same: Call your legislators and encourage your friends and family to do
the same. And if you can, donate to your local food bank.
Waste produced from food is an integral part of Vanguard Renewables’ business
model; however, I’m more concerned that the wealthiest country in the world
cannot feed its residents. This is a social responsibility that the team and I
We have been dealing with food
for generations. Yet, with the passage of the Build Back Better bill, we might
be able to manage the problem.
At the end of our days, we will ask ourselves — did we do enough? I’m not sure I
can say yes, but I sure as hell will try to make a change for the better.
Published Jan 31, 2022 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
John Hanselman is Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Vanguard Renewables — the U.S. leader in farm-based organics to renewable energy. John launched Vanguard Renewables in 2014 to connect farm-based anaerobic digestion to agricultural resilience and produce renewable energy. His work includes finding a decarbonization pathway for the food and beverage industry by enabling the repurposing of unavoidable manufacturing and supply chain waste into renewable natural gas. John’s strength is bringing together partners in the decarbonization journey and Vanguard has strategic partnerships with Dairy Farmers of America and Dominion Energy, among others. (Read more ...)
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.