Ami McReynolds, Chief Equity and Programs Officer, Feeding America
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How do we end the social stigma around hunger? Consistent dialogue on the prevalence of hunger in our own neighborhoods and notifying members of our communities that there is help available could be a start. Ami McReynolds, Chief Equity and Programs Officer at Feeding America, believes addressing food insecurity with other social determinants is one way to increase knowledge of hunger and help fight stigma. Hunger is integrated with health, and must be addressed as an intervention requiring consistent access to and education about food over one’s lifetime.
Though it exists in every zip code, “Hunger is a hidden issue,” says McReynolds. “People don’t believe it exists in their communities and neighborhoods.” Those experiencing it are not always easy to identify because hunger does not have a traditional profile.
People have an interest in having healthy food for themselves, their families, access to stores that offer it, transportation to the stores, access to education about new foods and opportunities to learn how to prepare meals. With all these determinants, an ongoing challenge for McReynolds is, “How do you bring all of those services to one place where folks will be rather than having families go to different locations?”
As an executive who is tasked with developing tangible strategies to fight food insecurity, McReynolds must look at how individuals are affected by lack of nutritious food. Feeding America conducts listening sessions in communities where food banks are located in order to, “Incorporate the voice of people who experience hunger,” McReynolds said. From these voices McReynolds is able to understand how hunger might influence a change in policy and what programmatic developments can intervene.
Her current role prioritizes three how’s:
- “How do we increase access to nutritious food?” What are programs that can remove barriers to access like transportation? Where is the food that is not only available, but also nutritious? Produce, dairy and protein tend to be more expensive, and McReynolds says these are the items that are in demand. Reduced-cost services through charitable food networks and donations help offer access to these perishable items.
- “How do we improve diet quality?” In what ways can Feeding America support people in making healthy choices? McReynolds has received feedback from those in the community who want leaders in this space to exhibit “cultural competency,” meaning understanding what different communities want to eat, what they are able to eat and how Feeding America can source those types of food. Individual health concerns range from those who have medical issues to those who just need a change in diet. How might behavioral economics play a role and are there new partners in the healthcare space who are already addressing this concern?
- “How do we improve financial security so that we can improve long-term food security?” This concerns how Feeding America can improve the financial resources that are within a household in order to ensure, “That people have the foods that they need at their tables today,” McReynolds said. This might include examining pilot programs like workforce training that help improve household income.
McReynolds will be one of the speakers at the National Summit’s first plenary session on Monday, Oct. 21 titled, “Health Equity as the North Star in Cross-Sector Collaborations Addressing Social Determinants.” She will discuss the health outcomes of food insecurity as a social determinant of health. She’s looking forward to learning from her fellow panelists on what successful partnerships are taking place in this field and what nontraditional partnerships may also be effective for Feeding America. “Hunger exists in every county in the U.S.,” McReynolds said. “To educate and inspire people to take action to help improve food security is a key part of the work that we’re trying to do.”