As the incoming chair of the Board of Directors, I wanted to take some time to share my own personal perspective on why I joined Hunger Free Colorado and how we should be discussing this critical issue facing so many in our community. First, without question and without reserve, I firmly believe no American should be hungry. We are the greatest and most innovative nation in the world and our people, especially our children, should not be hungry.
Before elaborating on my thoughts, let me introduce myself. I have been engaged in the Denver community since 2005 but I was raised in Glenwood Springs where my father was an FBI agent. We grew up under the guidance that the strong help the weak, that individuals are not separate from the community and that everyone should strive to make their community better. My passion is around helping our children, with a focus on low income children, in this community through education reform efforts. Professionally, I have had the pleasure of working within the State of Colorado on key programs and initiatives. I met Kathy Underhill, our Executive Director, a few years ago and she has inspired me with a sense of urgency that we must act now and differently to address this issue. I believe it’s essential to focus on this issue differently as we move to eradicate hunger in Colorado.
Reduce healthcare costs. We should move the discussion to one of nutrition and healthcare. Not feeding people or providing them with low nutritional value food is a strategy that will result in massive cost increases to both of our healthcare and educational systems. The irony is rich in this country that the most economically disadvantaged have access to the very unhealthy and high caloric food. Poor nutrition drives higher obesity and results in exceptionally high longer term healthcare costs for our community. Providing access to sufficient nutrition is not simply the right thing to do, but it will significantly help reduce Medicaid, CHP+ and other skyrocketing healthcare costs. There are those that argue we shouldn’t provide these benefits but the fact is hunger exists today. Again, we can decide to mitigate this issue at the source at a fraction of the longer term healthcare costs.
Save Education – Save the Community. The source of our most costly issues in this society can be directly traced to education. A highly educated society has simply less cost through lower crime rates, smaller prison populations, healthier citizens, and stronger economic development. I have spent significant capital and time working to improve our educational system and have arrived at one solid conclusion. Hungry kids don’t learn well or really behave well. Seems obvious, right? As a charter school board member, I have seen the direct academic results from a school breakfast program. This program reduces disciplinary issues in the classroom and helps the students focus on learning. Like healthcare, there is a business reason to continue this program. In our state, we are funding millions of dollars on remediation programs across the K-12 and higher education spectrum. If academic performance can be improved through effective nutrition, then we will reduce these longer term costs. There is no question of the need for these programs – kids are coming to school hungry. The number one reason kids at our charter school come to Saturday school is for the lunch. We should have no illusion that the most vulnerable among us are hungry and it only takes a visit to a low income neighborhood school to shatter this illusion. As with healthcare, our kids deserve nutritional meals as it will improve our educational capacity which is a foundation for improving our society. Save our education system, save our community.
Ending Hunger is good for Economic Development. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program SNAP or Food Stamps) is designed to help people in need, but it’s also a fantastic mechanism for economic development. This sounds harsh and corporate but we need to change the lens of the argument. Like I stated earlier, my motivation lies within helping my community. But policy makers need to shift away from traditional thinking to understanding SNAP can be an instrument that helps our community in terms of economic development. Every dollar of the SNAP program goes into the economic supply chain: generating sales and revenue for grocery stores, farmers, food producers, and benefiting (even creating jobs) within these vertical markets. In fact, economists estimate that every $1 of SNAP benefits generates $1.87 in local economies. SNAP has the unusual advantage, when compared to other federal programs, of having a direct dollar for dollar benefit in our community. Think of it this way: We left $700+ million on the table in Colorado last year. This is pretty defensible – $700M can make a real difference in our community.
In summary, I watched the summer meals program this summer at a trailer park in Arvada. It made me realize there are families and kids in this community who are truly suffering – they are out there in our own neighborhoods. I grew up in this state and I know what we are capable of doing – I have absolutely no lack of confidence in my fellow citizens to resolve this critical issue. I signed on to serve this organization as I personally find it completely unacceptable any child in this beautiful state should know hunger. As the incoming chair, I humbly commit my time and efforts to standing up for these individuals, families, and children. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it will provide a real and tangible business return for our community. It’s time we look at this as an investment in our future that will provide a host of amazing longer term benefits.