Hunger is a real problem for military families. According to a recent report, about 15 percent of military and veteran family respondents face "food insecurity," the policy language used to describe people who worry about how they are going to feed their families or afford food.
That's a lot of military and veteran families.
But it's also a political hot potato. The food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, is the government's primary food help effort but is notoriously difficult to change, in part because it's handled as part of the controversial Farm Bill. And addressing military food problems alone doesn't work well either because it involves larger topics such as pay and allowances.
And that, officials with the Military Family Advocacy Network (MFAN) said, is where they hope to help. Formed to address problems through partnerships, MFAN is tackling military family food insecurity as one of its primary missions this year. And now it has partnered with a number of civilian community-based experts to make it happen.
"We brought the people in the room who are excellent at handling food insecurity. We came together, sharing knowledge and information, trying to find a path forward," said Shelley Kimball, MFAN's director of research.
MFAN plans to work with Feeding America, the Food Research & Action Center, National WIC Association, and United Way to tackle the subject within the military community.
As part of that effort, MFAN and its partners will take a three-pronged approach, Kimball said. They want to find the best ways to help families access services, while increasing education on the assistance that's already available. And they want to reduce the shame of asking for help.
"We want to make it a health issue as opposed to not having enough," she said. "There are people ready and willing to give you help. Let us connect you."
While the plan for just how they are going to do that is still being developed, Kimball knows what it will avoid: politics and policy.
She said MFAN plans to leave policy advocacy to other military family organizations that are already taking that on. "There are other military family groups that do that exceptionally well. We are going to use our strengths on this [issue]."
At the end of the day, Kimball said, feeding hungry families and the value of empowering them to ask for and get help is something on which everyone can agree.
"We all care about this, and we all want this to go away," she said. "If we can find a way to take care of this once and for all, it would spectacular."
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.