EJI tackles food insecurity and the fight against hunger in Alabama

  • 17% of adults and 23% of children in Alabama struggle with food insecurity, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
  • EJI’s Hunger Relief Program will support local nonprofit organizations that focus on hunger relief work by providing money and volunteers.
  • It also aims to provide direct support to 400 families for whom the pantry generalized food distribution model is not suitable.
  • EJI initially committed $4 million for the first phase of operations; Stevenson said he hopes additional support will come, allowing them to double that pledge.

The Equal Justice Initiative, which has been advocating for criminal justice reform and racial justice for years, seeks to alleviate food insecurity in Alabama through direct financial assistance to families.

Through this initiative, EJI will support hungry families in two ways: it will provide direct assistance to 400 families in need and will support local non-profit organizations that focus on hunger relief work by providing financial resources. and additional volunteers.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of EJI, said he hopes to start helping food-insecure families in October.

Stevenson sat down with the Montgomery Advertiser to answer questions about EJI’s Hunger Relief Initiative. But first, some information on food insecurity in Alabama:

  • 17% of adults and 23% of children in Alabama struggle with food insecurity, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
  • Food insecurity is concentrated in the black belt of Alabama. The 12 counties with the highest rates of food-insecure children are all in the black belt, according to a Stacker report using data from Feeding America.
  • Some 37.8% of children in Greene County are food insecure, making it the most food insecure county in Alabama.
  • The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of access by all people at all times to enough food to lead an active and healthy life.

Portions of this interview have been edited for brevity and clarity.

To start, can you explain how EJI decided to focus on food insecurity?

Well, we have been working with poor families since the beginning. And there you see the consequences of poverty and how the inability to access basic services like food, housing and health care creates the conditions that have resulted in most of the clients we have represented being our clients. We spent several months determining how we could impact poor communities, and decided to focus on hunger, unfair fees, fines, and healthcare.

So EJI has three new initiatives planned. Why tackle hunger first?

Mainly because it’s so urgent right now. With inflation, we are witnessing a sharp increase in food insecurity. People who did not need to go to food banks before now have to go there, and we know that the pandemic followed by inflation will aggravate the problem of hunger, particularly for families with children and families whose members are vulnerable and have special needs.

I just think that in a country as wealthy as ours, it is fundamentally unacceptable that there are millions of people struggling with hunger and food insecurity. Hunger is not a problem we have to accept in America – it just takes commitment and willpower.

How do you think the fight against hunger fits into EJI’s work on racial justice and criminal justice reform?

I see it as an extension of our justice work. I have always believed that the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but the opposite of poverty is justice. If we can play a role in alleviating some of the conditions that cause poverty, then I feel that’s at the heart of our mission, which is to deliver justice.

Let’s talk about the details of the program. What nonprofit organizations does EJI work with?

We currently work with approximately eight nonprofit organizations, including Greater Birmingham Ministries, West Alabama Food Bank, Food Bank of East Alabama, Edmundite Missions, and Helping Hands Food Ministry, but we will continue to add partner organizations and support. their.

How does EJI plan to support these nonprofits?

Our staff will be directly involved in supporting these organizations, and then we will provide resources to each of them as well. We also hope to do research and policy work, whatever we can do to make the work of frontline hunger organizations in the state more effective.

If EJI is going to support these food distributors, why is the direct aid program important?

The challenge for food distribution and pantries is that they collect a lot of food. They make it available to a lot of people, and it’s really vital when you have the high rate of food insecurity that we have in this state. But there are many families with special needs. There are a lot of people who won’t get everything they need from this kind of generalized food distribution model.

How will the direct aid program work?

Most of our work will be direct service work. We will give 400 families gift cards that we will provide so that they can directly manage their food needs by going to grocery stores and making specialized choices to meet their family’s needs.

How will EJI identify families to support?

We are about to begin this process. We will be talking with religious leaders, teachers, community leaders and agency providers to help with this identification process in the coming weeks.

How much money does EJI invest in the Direct Aid Program?

I haven’t created a total budget for this because hopefully the more we talk about it the more support we’ll have to get the job done. But we’ve already committed $4 million just for the first phase of operations and we expect that to double if we can find the support, and I’m hopeful we can.

EJI initially committed $4 million to the Hunger Relief Initiative's first phase of operations, EJI Founder and Executive Director Bryan Stevenson said at the group's offices in Montgomery on March 31, 2022.

Where does the money come from?

It will come from our operating expenses. We collected money for a long time. We were really lucky that people responded after George Floyd and reached out to us and wanted to support our work. We encourage people who want to support us to support everything we do. This means that we have the latitude to start new projects like this.

Is there a specific geographic location or area that EJI plans to target?

We want to impact the 13 counties that are traditionally most at risk with the highest rates of poverty, and that includes all counties in central Alabama. We are focusing on them because in many of these counties people live in areas where there is not a lot of food available for purchase. We want to make sure that the most vulnerable people in the state—because they live in rural areas, because they don’t have transportation, because there are no stores nearby— not be left behind as we try to do something about food insecurity.

If someone thinks they would be a good candidate for this program, what can they do?

We have a new intake (email). It’s called [email protected], and people can contact us through that address. We won’t be able to meet everyone’s needs, but if we can help 400 families, we will be really proud of it. And if we can increase that number in the coming months, we’ll be even more excited.

What would you say to someone reading this who is concerned that EJI is spending fewer resources on its criminal justice and racial justice work?

On the contrary, we will extend our services to people who are incarcerated and in prisons. In the area of ​​criminal justice, we actually represent more people in jails and jails than we ever have before. And I’m just lucky now to have a lot of senior executives who have been with me for 15, 20, and 25 years, which means I can expand the organization’s ability to perform well in different areas. The criminal justice side is as important as it has ever been in our history, and we will try to continue to be as fair as possible.

Evan Mealins is the Montgomery Advertiser’s forensic reporter. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanMealins.

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