The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention notes that culturally appropriate foods can positively impact the health of immigrant communities. Imagine growing up eating hamburgers, hot dogs, and meatloaf, but suddenly you can only eat white rice, bok choy, dumplings, and tofu. How do you think you would feel about it? How would your body react to such a significant change?
It would certainly be easier and cheaper for CASL to distribute peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or hot dogs; perhaps we could produce more meals. But would they respond to the cultural needs of the recipients or would they nourish their mind, body and spirit? And how many meals would simply be thrown away?
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However, serving culturally appropriate meals requires significant investment from public and private funding sources – funding which, sadly, often comes with too many covenants.
For example, some lenders require food to be purchased from sources that do not contain the ingredients to produce culturally appropriate food. Other lenders require meals delivered to be frozen, a model incompatible with CASL’s Senior Meals program. Others provide funding for only certain meals rather than letting the host organization decide the appropriate menus for their customers.
There is no doubt that these lenders mean well. Any funding for food insecurity is welcome. But it helps no one to create barriers by placing unnecessary restrictions on donations.
Fortunately, some lenders are starting to open their wallets for this critical cause. The US Department of Agriculture, for example, is investing $3.5 million in funding to support Indigenous food sovereignty. The Food Bank of the Rockies received $743,000 to launch its Culturally Responsive Food Initiative pilot program in 2020. The initiative has now distributed 1 million pounds of culturally appropriate food and has expanded to 53 counties.
Locally, Senator Dick Durbin secured an additional $1 million in federal funding earlier this year to double the impact of our Senior Meals Program, which will soon be able to serve 9,000 meals a week. or nearly 500,000 a year. This much-needed funding will also allow us to expand the program to new neighborhoods, including predominantly black and brown communities.
Food sovereignty guarantees people access to basic needs and helps them feel part of it. It may not be easy or cheap, but funding these initiatives is the right thing to do. CASL is asking all lenders to look beyond the numbers in spreadsheets and remember the human impact behind their decisions, and we ask our allies to ask for the same.
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