Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md., 8th) met with the Rev. Robert Hahn to tour the End Hunger in Calvert County program at Chesapeake Church in Huntingtown on April 6.
“We are always grateful when any of our elected officials visit the End Hunger program. We believe that the partnership of the nonprofit sector and the private sector and the public sector is what makes our program effective, unique and a great value to all the citizens, not just of Calvert County, but the state of Maryland,” said Hahn.
The program is a distribution center that supplies and equips partner food pantries to serve individual families, but it also serves another purpose.
“Our goal is to move people from dependency to self-sufficiency. So, we have training programs, such as our culinary program and our café management program, which take unemployed people and underemployed people and get them into a living wage,” continued Hahn.
The café management program is a free five-week job training course to prepare those who are interested in a career in the hospitality industry to include a coffee shop, café or bakery as a barista or manager. An advocate of programs that expand access to healthy meals to families year round, Van Hollen was eager to see the local operation that also provided career development.
“I was really impressed with the End Hunger Café Management Program because that was clearly an effort to provide job training and opportunities so that people could get jobs that pay the rent and put food on the table in such a creative and sustainable model,” said Van Hollen.
To bring attention to the difficulty families experience living on a fixed income and dependent on the federal food programs, Van Hollen took the Food Stamp Challenge in 2007, living off $21 for one week, the then-average federal nutrition benefit amount a person received on food stamps.
“It becomes clear very quickly that [$21] is very difficult to live on. It just highlighted the importance of having some basic food and nutrition program …” said Van Hollen. “A lot of people who are on the federal food programs are people who are working full time, or trying to find full-time work or working part-time and it’s just hard to make ends meet.”
According to Van Hollen, the Republicans on Capitol Hill have been targeting that program for very deep cuts, referring to the GOP’s proposed $157 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well additional funding cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Women’s Infant and Children’s (WIC) and child nutrition programs.
As the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, Van Hollen said he has been working very hard to block repeated attempts to reduce federal nutrition benefits, as well as seek alternative ways to ensure families and their children have access to quality foods.
“We need to approach hunger from every direction through the kind of local efforts to provide food on an emergency basis, the federal effort and then these other innovative approaches like … End Hunger Café Management,” said Van Hollen. “The goal, of course, is to help find jobs that pay a living wage.”
A proponent of the “Buy Local, Buy Fresh” mantra and instrumental in allowing geographic preference in school food purchasing in the 2008 Farm Bill, Van Hollen wants to facilitate, at the federal level, more local growing and fresh food options be available to people on the federal programs, especially kids, so they can get a healthy start.
“It’s really hard to get healthy foods at $21 a week,” said Van Hollen. “We’d not only have food available, but they’d be healthy and nutritious.”
By TAMARA WARD