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Faith Offices at USDA and CNCS Help Expand Access to Nutrition Assistance

USDA and the Corporation for National Community Service recently launched an innovated public-private partnership to expand access to nutrition assistance across 18 states.

There was a buzz in the room as the statue of George Washington looked out at the newly inaugurated foot soldiers in the fight against hunger.  From Philadelphia’s historic City Hall, these 46 new AmeriCorpsVISTA volunteers will  spread out around the country to form the new National Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps, an innovative collaboration between the US Department of Agriculture, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS, the parent organization of AmeriCorpsVISTA), the non-profit New York City Coalition Against Hunger and the WalMart Foundation.

As the Director of the USDA Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I worked with CNCS Strategic Advisor for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, John Kelly, and other colleagues to help build this partnership.  I was pleased to represent the White House Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships initiative at this exciting launch and stress to the Anti-Hunger Corps Members the importance of building partnerships with congregations and community groups.

Agriculture Under Secretary for Food and Nutrition Services, Kevin Concannon told the new volunteers, “You, by your service, are helping remind people that in our midst, in this country of plenty, there are millions of people who are struggling.” He was joined by Acting Director for AmeriCorpsVISTA, Paul Davis, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and NYC Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director, Joel Berg, in swearing in the diverse group of Corps members, who will serve in rural and urban areas in 18 different states around the country.  Their primary focus will be working through neighborhood organizations to increase access to nutritious food options by expanding outreach and programming to increase utilization of benefits, especially through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and supporting local, community gardening and agriculture and nutrition education efforts.”

SNAP puts healthy food on the table for over 43 million people each month, half of whom are children.  Serving about 1 in 7 Americans each month, SNAP is the cornerstone of America's safety-net against hunger.  As President Obama says frequently, government cannot overcome all of our country’s challenges alone.  In order to win the future for our children, we need to be innovative in how we provide services.  Public-private partnerships are a perfect way to leverage the strengths of each partner. 

Increasing access to healthy, affordable food is one of the pillars of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.  She just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the launch at a church in Georgia.  Get more resources on how to expand access and partner with Let’s Move!.

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Max Finberg serves as Director of the USDA Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and John Kelly serves as Senior Advisor for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Corporation for National and Community Services.