Double-take on a familiar face: My reintroduction to Tyson Foods

I am now in my fifth month of my internship with Tyson Foods. To be completely honest the only thing I knew about Tyson when I began this internship was that Tyson produced chicken and that Tyson was a great employment provider for many people I knew growing up. Many of my own family members worked their first jobs in the chicken production plants.

Tyson Team Members with LULAC PresidentIn the four months I been here I have learned so much more about Tyson Foods and quite honestly I was blown away by all the work Tyson puts into giving back to the community. I personally never experienced hunger, but like many families in a tough economy, at times money gets tight and we all have to cut back on spending. Thankfully my parents were always working hard to make sure we always had meat on the table, not just bread but meat. My father in his early years was a butcher and his father before him was a butcher too; the importance of protein as a part of a daily meal was always very clear to them.

On my very first week of my internship with Tyson Foods I was sent to Las Vegas. There the company had paired up with LULAC  (League of United Latin American Citizens) and was making a donation of protein to the local food bank.  The donation was of 38,400 pounds of protein! This donation was to feed more than 100,000 Nevadans fighting hunger.

When I came back to work, the Tyson team was gearing up for yet another donation and more work around creating awareness about food insecurity, and also continuing to giving more help to Moore, Oklahoma. Little by little I discovered a new face of Tyson, the human, caring face of Tyson Foods.

My parents have always inculcated the values of being a good neighbor and giving back. To me giving back is a much greater gift. When you give back to the community you are making a change, a visible, tangible, change. Through this internship I have learned that Tyson Foods isn’t just about chicken, or beef or pork for that matter; it’s about people.

Time for a new and different debate on SNAP

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Food stamps.  SNAP.  Hardly anything (possibly excepting healthcare) has polarized public opinion more.  And let me just offer the disclaimer that the rest of what I’m going to say is absolutely my own perspective, not necessarily that of my employer nor my fellow Tyson Team Members..  Because, with the way things are, I’ll likely say something that’s going to aggravate just about everyone.

Recent critics of SNAP have pointed to Jason Greenslate.  He allegedly spends his time on the beach, frequently using his $200 a month SNAP allocation to buy lobster.  Other more mythical examples include the “welfare queen”   and people buying crab legs, liquor and cigarettes with SNAP benefits (the latter, of course illegal).

Then you have another Jason.  Always been a hard worker. Former Afghanistan combat veteran. Now unemployed, but searching for a job.  SNAP recipient.

For every Jason Greenslate, taking advantage of the system, there are a hundred truly hungry veteran Jasons, who desperately need our assistance. Unfortunately far, far too much emphasis is placed on the former, at the expense of the latter.  People do need this program, and kids will go hungry without it.

SNAP advocates, citing the documented low incidence of fraud and abuse in the program, typically refuse to participate in any discussion of reform. Their concern: allowing this discussion gives  the program’s critics more credibility than they deserve. The problem is, fraud and abuse do exist, albeit minor compared to true need.  And by refusing to acknowledge it, advocates create the impression they don’t know, or don’t care that it exists.

So here’s my suggestion:  Let’s fully fund SNAP. Then let’s all acknowledge it’s not perfect, roll up our sleeves, and figure out how to make it better, so that the people who don’t need it don’t get it.   Meanwhile, let’s not let folks truly in need go hungry.

Photo USDAGov–Flickr  Creative Commons

Bringing it all together

Sam'sColoringAt Tyson Foods, we joined this hunger relief movement in 2000.  Very quickly, we discovered that a lot of other brands were putting a lot more money than we’d ever have toward this cause.  But we learned a lot from our first partner, Share Our Strength, whose battle cry was, “Everyone has a strength to share.”  We learned the strength of more than 100,000 employees.  We learned that our protein products were badly needed by food banks.  We learned we could be creative and use social media to generate awareness for a cause that is far too often misunderstood.
For the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen lots of those strengths come together, thanks to an innovative partnership with Champions for Kids, another Northwest Arkansas-based organization that’s making waves with national brands to help children’s causes around the country.
You know when you go Sam’s Club on Saturday, and they have little booths set up to let you sample food…?    Well the Tyson customer marketing group decided that maybe people already know how delicious Tyson Nuggets taste; and perhaps we could do something with that booth space to help people know a little more about the issue of hunger, and how they could get involved.  So they partnered with Champions for Kids to create the Be a Hunger Hero demo at Sam’s—as far as we can tell—the first store demo that has ever actually focused on engaging people in a cause, rather than hard-selling them on products.    They also created a web page,  www.beahungerhero.com, that lives on this blog to engage and inform folks.
If you’re in or around a Sam’s Club this weekend, go check out the Be a Hunger Hero booth.   There are things for the kids to do.    Plus if you buy a bag of nuggets (OK, yeah, we really would like to sell you something—it is, after all, how we’re ultimately able to donate), we’ll  work with Champions for Kids to donate a pound of food to hunger relief.   Check back here for more details about those donations.

Food Bank Workers Should Carry Guns

Food for thought.

Food for thought.

To break into the national consciousness anymore it seems you have to either shout something divisive or unearth a scintillating scandal.
Nothing chews up a month of news cycle like imaginary girlfriends, sports doping and apocalyptic gun-control debates.
Old standbys such as hunger and under nourishment don’t stand a chance.
Maybe if the hunger-relief community was advocating for packin’ heat rather than packin’ food baskets the profile of domestic food insecurity would be raised a smidge. Of course that’s ridiculous. And that’s the point.
The fact is 15 percent of Americans are food insecure, according to Feeding America. Food insecurity is a nickel term for hunger, and it basically means those affected routinely lack adequate access to nutritious food. Frequently, they choose between food and paying bills.
That’s one in six people. That means most likely someone you know is affected.
Gun control is of course a relevant and serious topic. Obviously, there’s no real intent here to blend hunger into that quarrel.
It’s safe to say however there will be those who would never have clicked on this post if it wasn’t for the misleading headline.
Despite the fact 74 percent of Feeding America’s food pantries report ongoing increases in the number of clients that come to them for help, it’s hard to cut through the daily clutter. Over-hyped issues – significant and trivial – smother out discussions on less-sexy fodder.
Hunger is simply not naughty or politically polarizing enough for the talk-format media heads to foam at the mouth over. It’s far easier to get lost in the distraction of Justin Bieber mooning a camera, the latest Kardashian kerfuffle or an all-out shouting match about nuances of the fiscal cliff.
There are other reasons, too.
There’s the stigma of being food insecure that causes many to be unwilling to speak. There’s also the chance many feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problem. Or, with so many organizations and dollars being thrown at the issue maybe the consensus is someone else will carry the load.
Meanwhile, more than 16 million of America’s hungry are children. With guaranteed federal budget belt-tightening on the way that number is apt to get higher.
In order to generate better engagement about the issue of hunger, we’re going to have to continue to find innovative ways to tell the story.
That should start with some transparency, a good dose of passion, and yes even a sprinkle of the creative if we are to be heard.

Nutrition Fairs Add to Growing Hunger Synergies for Mississippi

Two recent KNOW Hunger Nutrition Fairs conducted in Vicksburg and Jackson drew 40 local organizations and more than 800 participants. The events, part of the Urban League-Tyson Foods Hunger Project Mississippi, provided free food and health screenings, nutritious cooking and exercise demonstrations plus access to programs for the underserved.

A donation of 34,000 pounds of food kicked off the fairs. It was given to the Mississippi Food Network from the Urban League of Greater Jackson, Jackson State University and Tyson Foods.

There were a lot of great moments, and some of the highlights are available here. But it’s increasingly clear the most important gathering is ongoing.

There has been a proliferation of organizations and resources aimed at curbing hunger for Mississippi, which leads the nation in food insecurity. Several groups have been at it awhile, and here are a few of the lead entities engaged at present:

There are others, including a growing number of efforts by political leaders. Lasting success will likely require a coalition of public and private entities working together.

There will be at least two more opportunities this fall that can help lend traction. The Urban League-Tyson Foods Hunger Project will conduct a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Challenge on Nov. 13 in Jackson, and a day later The Mississippi Food Policy Council is holding a conference.

Contact those organizations for more information, and also take a minute to visit all of these groups and see where your own effort might fit in. There’s plenty of room at the table for those who want to make a real difference.

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