September 17, 2018


Big Garden education staff, Stephanie Finklea and Matthew Cronin, attended the United Methodist Church’s hunger conference in Washington D.C. September 5th-7th. Matt & Stephanie are regular teachers in our middle school education programs teaching low-income kids to grow, cook, & preserve fresh garden produce. Matt also leads our Volunteers in Mission (VIM) teams.

The seminar, hosted by the General Board of Church & Society, was called Scarcity & Abundance: Hunger in the United States. During the seminar, Matt & Stephanie gathered with United Methodists from all across the country to learn about:

  • the impact of hunger in rural, suburban, & urban communities

  • the impact of hunger on women and children

  • the impact of hunger on health

  • the impact of hunger on marginalized communities

  • the racial wealth gap

  • “re-thinking” food ministries

  • the impact of policies on hunger

Matt & Stephanie also had the opportunity to learn how to effectively meet with their Congressional Representatives. At the end of the seminar, they met with staff from the offices of Sen. Deb Fischer, Rep. Don Bacon, and Sen. Ben Sasse, urging them to support the SNAP food program.

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Of the seminar, Stephanie said:

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“I knew that poverty was a problem in the United States but I never had hard evidence to be able to demonstrate just how bad the problem is to other people. This conference provided the support I needed to explore the issue of poverty. The conference chose to tackle one specific issue of poverty: food insecurity. Our mission while in DC was to learn as much as we could about the issue so we could speak to our state representatives about protecting SNAP. A few key points I learned:

• The richest 1% of Americans control 40% of the $60 trillion in American wealth.

• Over 40.6 million people live below the poverty line.

• Half of American households could face poverty if someone in the home lost a job or became ill.

• One in 20 bags of food assistance comes from charitable programs. The rest is provided by federal nutrition programs. Charitable organizations alone are not enough to meet the needs of the people.

• Race plays a large factor in the way poverty affects individuals. The most vulnerable among us are single womyn and single mothers of color. (National Women’s Law Center)

• Formerly incarcerated individuals are ineligible for SNAP benefits. Of these returning citizens, 91% report being food insecure.

The problem of poverty and food insecurity seems almost impossible to take on when you look at numbers alone but the conference brought together people from all over the country. The fellowship there made me feel like it’s absolutely possible if we band together and continue to advocate for the needs of all instead of the desires of a few.”

Following the seminar, Matt & Stephanie stayed an extra day to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Stephanie said, “The experience gave me a greater appreciation for how far Black Americans have come. The exhibit begins with an explanation of how individual African tribes interacted and thrived before the first colonists decided to sell humans as commodities. From there, the visitor is taken on the voyage across the sea with captured Africans. The despair is palpable as you look upon the recovered pieces of slave ships and read quotes from the enslaved themselves. You then view articles of clothing, tools, and even the homes of what life on an American plantation was like. You continue on through the decades to witness the civil war, the fight for civil rights, and eventually the modern oppression that still plagues this nation. I left feeling the weight of the pain that my ancestors endured but also the persistent spirit that has allowed us all to thrive.”