Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 2012 ESSENTIAL Class Day Takeaways

Guest post from ESSENTIAL Class of 2013 participant Kathy Green. Here Kathy reflects on the presentation on Austin's demographics by City Demographer Ryan Robinson, and the Economic Forecast for Central Texas provided by Jon Roberts of TIP Strategies, at the October 17 ESSENTIAL Class Day.

On the screen in front of me - in bold colors and graphs - was a story I already knew. A story that gets replayed daily in our pantries and soup kitchen and the shelters we serve at the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB). On a daily basis, the population we see are mostly people of color and many families with children. And their numbers haven’t decreased since the Great Recession.

Hunger is the condition we treat at CAFB, and is a symptom of poverty - the chronic illness we face in Central Texas. In advocating for these neighbors, I often struggle with where our mission should lie at the food bank - are we here to simply feed the hungry, or are we here to end hunger? I would argue it is both.

As leaders in our community, our ESSENTIAL Class can affect both. The first is ensuring our neighbors have consistent access to healthy food - no matter in which color block on that map they live. Tackling the latter is much more challenging, but still doable.

Being a leader in Austin means doing what we can to ensure that families all across our city have the same opportunities, and their children have a positive future. Children have little choice in their family situation or environment, and the ramifications of growing up poor are grave. A low-income child is often a hungry child, a sick child, a truant child, and a delinquent child. The parents of these children love them as much as we love ours, but often have neither the time nor resources to change outcomes.

The human service agencies like ours across Austin do what we can to help change these outcomes, but we cannot do it alone. It will take the leadership of all of us - in resources (both financial and volunteer), in partnerships, and in political will - to make it happen. It means access to solid education and training so everyone can make a livable wage. It means quality healthcare, and yes, preventative healthcare measures such as safe and clean parks and soccer fields so our kids can run and play. It means a strong economy - all over the city. It means going outside our comfort zone to tackle the hard issues. It means recognizing that a city divided among income, race, and culture is destined to fail.

I am thrilled we have the opportunity.

Kathy Green is Senior Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.

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