If you’re like me, the New Year already seems like a distant memory now, and we’re only a few weeks in. If you haven’t gotten around to doing some reflecting on the year ahead just yet, take heart. You’re not alone, as I’m just getting around to it myself. In doing so, I discovered there is plenty to be excited about in our year ahead as we work together to fight hunger. Here are four things that give me hope as we enter 2015.
More Georgians are eating more fresh produce.
In 2014, the Atlanta Community Food Bank and our network of emergency food providers distributed over 10 million pounds of fresh produce to people in our community who, at some point during the year, didn't know where their next meal was coming from. In fact, produce was the largest category of food we distributed. That wasn’t easy to do. Fresh produce is harder to handle, has to be distributed more quickly and usually costs more. But it's also what I want my own family to eat more of. It's what helps move individuals, families and communities towards greater long term health, while at the same time meeting the immediate need of hunger. The Food Bank is going to distribute even more produce this year than we did last year. I’m proud of that for the reasons mentioned above, but even more so because it is a first step along the road towards food equity for the people we serve, who often have limited choices in what they eat. Individuals and communities lacking options and access to healthy food cannot grow into the type of healthy, productive people and places that we all want to be. The more the foods we distribute look like the foods we all want to eat, the greater chance our communities have to thrive and flourish together.
We are not alone.
Institutions - be they nonprofits, governments, or businesses - can only do so much to address the glaring and underlying issues our communities face. There are some elements of change that can only be brought about through the fresh energy and power of a movement. More and more Georgians are recognizing that “change can happen despite the inertia of organizations.” These like minded individuals are discovering each other and supporting each other to work towards creating a Georgia where our children, and our neighbor’s children, go to bed each night with full stomachs and wake up each morning with an abundance of opportunity. Hunger is not a private problem; hunger is a public issue. Every day, more Georgians are deciding that we cannot remain silently on the sidelines. They are speaking up. They are joining a movement. There is certainly more work to be done, but the greater, growing truth is that we do not do it alone.
Communities care enough to act.
Where is the energy for change and opportunity coming from these days? Don’t look towards Washington or the Gold Dome. Look out your front door and look to your neighbor; look down your street and around the block. Neighborhoods, cities and counties are increasingly the catalysts for transformational change on the issues that matter most to Georgians. Why does this make me optimistic? Because change that originates from, and develops alongside, community members is much more likely to address the issues that communities care the most about. This kind of change is more likely to focus on the things people actually have energy to work on. It is more likely to include, as a part of the solution, the gifts and resources of the community itself. Despite what we’re often told, and what we often believe ourselves, our communities are rich with the raw materials of transformation - individuals with knowledge, skills and care; businesses with resources and commitment; organizations with influence and history; and environments that offer opportunities to connect and dream. There are communities across Georgia that are beginning to address the issue of hunger from the perspective of citizens and participants rather than simply as providers and consumers of services. These are the communities that are realizing it is possible to both envision and achieve a new future for themselves in 2015.
We’re not satisfied.
“There are no new ideas.” That’s a truism that’s been around for quite a while (see aforementioned truism) and it certainly seems to be born out in our work as well. However, there is a vast gulf of difference between saying “there are no new ideas” and “we must do things the way we have always done them.” An equally important truism is that there are an infinite number of ways to newly animate good ideas with fresh perspectives, new partners, renewed energy and community assets. Over the last year, the table around which we gather to fight hunger and poverty has expanded to include far more than the usual suspects. We see it expanding even further in the year ahead. Community members, health care providers, social entrepreneurs, farmers and educators - just to name a few - are bringing new gifts, assets and dreams to the conversation about how we build thriving communities in which all people have equitable access to sufficient healthy food. Innovation almost always emerges out of relationships. In the process, “old ideas” become refreshed, as newly configured collaborative solutions and places where we used to feel stuck suddenly open up as new opportunities. In 2015 we will tackle old problems with new friends and innovative approaches. We will not be satisfied with average results; this work is too important to simply be “good enough.”
What are you optimistic about in your work or community in the year ahead?
-Jon West, Community Building Manager