While working on a grant application to help fund Second Harvest Food Bank’s advocacy efforts, a question about key activities reminded me yet again why we do what we do. The application asked what our expected outcomes are and what key activities will help us attain those outcomes. The Food Bank, of course, exists to serve people who have difficulty obtaining an adequate amount of food for themselves and their families. This is the direct service portion of Community Action for which most people in the general public recognize us. The outcome we really want to achieve, however, is a reduction or, ideally, a complete eradication of the underlying root causes of hunger and poverty.
Community Action has spent the previous decade and longer developing community and economic development programs in the Lehigh Valley that aim to create wealth and encourage self-sufficiency. These programs include: financial and first-time homebuyer counseling to assist people in obtaining a home (the largest asset they will likely ever obtain); foreclosure diversion activities to keep people in their homes when they fall on tough times; savings match programs to help people reach educational and personal financial goals; affordable housing development; energy bill assistance, conservation education, and weatherization retrofits to ensure families are not spending more of their disposable income on energy costs than they absolutely need to; business start-up classes and technical assistance for both Bethlehem and Allentown; micro-loan small business funding for current or aspiring qualified business owners who have fallen through the cracks of traditional lenders; building façade, sidewalk, and streetscape improvements and other revitalization efforts in Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton to improve the prospects and resident outlooks of the most downtrodden neighborhoods; community garden creation to develop neighborhood cohesiveness and supplement family diets with local, fresh food; and job skills training (for youth and adults) and employment placement assistance. The root causes of hunger are joblessness, lack of adequate resources and the means to attain them, and failing political, social, and economic institutions. Community Action seeks to address all of these problems simultaneously and holistically.
Admittedly, eradicating hunger and poverty is a very lofty goal, especially considering the many societal and federal policy forces that have contributed to impoverishment since the beginning of our nation (slavery, Separate But Equal, Federal Housing Administration, etc.); but we have to believe it is possible, and the programs that Community Action has built over the years reflect this optimism. And what if our critics are correct in saying that it is not possible? Even better for those who we serve! “Impossible” is what we do best around here.