Stop, look and listen before you accuse.

6337060349_eaf1e38ce3_bSome of my good friends are posting a link to a blog story indignantly pointing to a food drive being held in a WalMart store in Ohio, to benefit fellow associates in need during the holiday season.  (The food drive was initiated by the associates at the store, not as a corporate program).   There’s a suggestion therein that this would never occur in a place that paid a “living wage.”
I’m not here to either defend or pass judgment on WalMart’s wages.  That discussion occurs in plenty of other places.
However.  Circumstances place people in need.  Those circumstances can turn on almost anyone, anywhere.
The implication that a “decent” workplace would never have employees with food insecurity is just wrong, and I might suggest dangerous for those with an interest in fighting hunger.  Using this particular situation to sling a spear at WalMart does a great disservice to everyone in the hunger movement trying to combat a myriad of misplaced stereotypes about food insecurity.
Let me repeat:  Food insecurity can be present in any workplace.
Take a close look around your own circle; at your own workplace, your friends and family, and in the places you do business.  You’ll likely be surprised to find people in real need if you dig deeply enough. Then, I might suggest, do what the associates at this WalMart store did.  Take action to help out.

Photo vastateparksstaff  Flickr Creative Commons

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

Of twerking, cats and hungry kids

Orange--ask me why I'm wearing

Ah, the interwebs.  A marvelous thing that has changed the lives of all of us.  It can feed the intellect, stimulate the senses and take us around the world.   Or it can suck us into a cultural wasteland, wherein the most banal of  subjects get enormous attention.     It’s really our own choice as to where we want to be taken–and where we want to send our friends and family members.

In case you don’t know, September is a month in which hunger issues are emphasized by a lot of different organizations.  In the last couple of years, many of these organizations have promoted using the color orange–wearing it, posting it on one’s website, adorning your avatar, etc.–to create awareness of hunger in the United States.   Those of us who associate with those organizations and the cause of hunger are spending some of our online bandwidth to encourage others to learn about and get involved in helping fight hunger.   You’ll be seeing orange appear in our social content streams. 

Want to participate?  Here’s one way:  Go to the Share Our Strength Go Orange for No Kid Hungry page.   You’ll find all sorts of fun and interesting ways you can turn your online participation into awareness.  Maybe for the rest of the month, resolve to ignore memes about twerking popstars and adorable kitties.  Help folks understand that we have a real crisis on our hands with one in five kids in our country at risk of going hungry.

Today, thanks to technology, we can conduct a free visual phone call with our cousin in Uzbekistan, order aspirins online with one click,  or check our email while sitting on the potty.   Surely we can figure out how to feed some of these kids.  Do something good today.   Go Orange. 

 

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.

The most digitally-connected hunger conference I’ve ever attended

Amanda Hite--photo courtesy of No Kid Hungry

Amanda Hite–photo courtesy of No Kid Hungry

When I went to my first Share our Strength Conference of Leaders in the fall of 2000, I was amazed by the vibrant, passionate community of people the organization had put together to address the issue of hunger.

As a relatively early adopter of social media around 2006, I  became really excited about the idea of that community bringing that energy, enthusiasm and spirited conversation online.  I waxed enthusiastically in blog posts here.

We brought the incredible Beth Kanter to the Conference of Leaders in 2008, to try to jump start the social media discussion. Maybe a bit before its time.  John Haydon came in the following year. Another great presentation, but still the online community was limited to a few of us.  Amanda Hite led the social media discussion in 2011, after which she was part of a great group of folks who created the No Kid Hungry Social  Council.

As a result of all the hard work that group has done, this year’s conference last week, was the very first major hunger gathering I’ve attended, where social media happened right. It happened mostly on Twitter.  Two large screens ran the Twitter feed in the plenary sessions. Amanda kicked it off with another great session.  Events saw tremendous traffic with #nokidhungry trending on Twitter at one point. People recognized great content.  High-profile attendees like The Food Network’s Ted Allen and Marc Murphy, and WNBA star Ruth Riley interacted online with attendees. People shared!!!!   The community truly came together.  Now it’s time to keep that momentum going.

Online communities thrive because of real-life  connections. We can have stimulating, compelling online conversations. We can share with each other; educate each other. But the real bonding occurs when we finally see each other face-to-face.  Sometimes it occurs the other way around:  We meet each other at an event, and that initial meeting can set up an online conversation that evolves into genuine friendship.  A lot of both occurred at this year’s conference.

Kudos to No Kid Hungry Online Community Director, Clay Dunn, Amanda Hite, and the No Kid Hungry Social Council and all of the folks who’ve been working to energize and connect the online tribe.  I believe you’ve done it. You’ve set the bar for every hunger organization that might want to mobilize stakeholders online.

One more thing:  the No Kid Hungry folks have put together two cool apps to further the cause:  Their No Kid Hungry app, which integrates gamification to engage people in various program activities.  And an app that features recipes from their Cooking Matters program (Tyson Foods is donating $1 for each of the first 5000 downloads of this app, so get on in to the iTunes Store and check it out).
BTW–Big shoutout to early adopters in this community, like Michael Farver, Bill Shore, Tim Cipriano Joni Doolin (and others whom I’ve no doubt omitted, but can be seen on this Twitter list of hunger advocates we’ve been putting together for the past few years).