Member Agency Conference views hunger through a new lens

Michelle Geoffroy

Michelle Geoffroy, Agency Relations Manager at The Food Bank, explains the importance of connecting with the food pantries, meals sites, and social service organizations we partner with during our annual Member Agency Conference. 

On Tuesday, October 29, The Food Bank held its 4th Annual Member Agency Conference at La Quinta Inn & Suites in Springfield.

If you don’t work at The Food Bank or in a food pantry, the term “member agency conference” might not mean much to you, so allow me to provide a bit of background…

The Food Bank provides healthy food directly through our Mobile Food Bank and Brown Bag: Food for Elders programs. The vast majority of the food we distribute moves through a network of 175 independent food pantries and community meal sites across western Massachusetts. These are our member agencies that contract with The Food Bank to receive this food and deliver it to struggling households in their communities.

Michelle Geoffroy leaning over table leading group discussion and exercise

2019 Agency Relations Conference

The annual Member Agency Conference is an opportunity for our network to connect with peers, share resources and best practices, and explore new ideas to feed our neighbors in needs.

Most years, our conference workshops are on practical topics like fundraising or volunteer management. This year, though, our theme was “Shifting the Focus: Viewing Hunger Through a New Lens.” All our workshops were focused on viewing hunger in a new way – through the lens of college students wondering where their next meal is coming from, or through public policy, or social stigma, or through the underlying causes of hunger.

I’m proud to say, it was our most exciting and best-attended conference ever!

We had discussion-based sessions on countering stigma and identifying ways to address the underlying causes of hunger.

We engaged more community partners in presentations and panels than ever before, including the Amherst Survival Center, Stone Soup Café, Clinical & Support Options, and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

We had a panel discussion on college hunger, moderated by the United Way of Pioneer Valley and featuring speakers from UMass Amherst, Springfield Technical Community College, and Holyoke Community College.

We had a presentation on proposed changes to SNAP that would limit access to federal food benefits for thousands of our food-insecure neighbors.

Our lunchtime speaker was The Food Bank’s own Hunger Solutions Innovator, Alan Dallmann, who organizes the Coalition to End Hunger, and who encouraged attendees to expand their view of hunger beyond daily food provision to engage in large-scale strategies to reduce the need for food assistance.

To me, this is what made this year’s conference so special. It’s so easy to get bogged down in our day-to-day work and so hard to find time to step back and look at the bigger picture. Even more rarely do we get to do that with people who are so deeply engaged and intimately familiar with what food insecurity really looks like in our community, and the underlying issues that cause it.

It was an excellent opportunity to shift our focus from our daily work of “Feeding our Neighbors in Need,” to look at the second, and arguably more challenging, part of our mission: “Leading the Community to END Hunger.”

The Food Bank’s 2019 member agency conference was sponsored by G & S Industrial Incorporated and Marcus Printing.