Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Health Promotion, Education and Behavior

Sub-Department

The Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health

First Advisor

Edward A. Frongillo

Abstract

Hunger is often addressed by providing food directly to those experiencing symptoms of food insecurity and hunger. Even with the availability of government food assistance programs, food insecurity and hunger rates continue to rise. Many local community organizations (e.g., small food banks, faith-based organizations, schools) across the country have come together to create and implement a variety of nongovernment food programs. Although there is no evidence these programs lower food insecurity and hunger rates, community organizations appear to be strongly committed to sustaining these programs. Little is known about the basis for this commitment, i.e., “ the will to act and to keep acting until the job is done” (Heaver, 2005). Many of these nongovernment food programs are implemented through the school system, and the effects of such programs on the educational setting are unknown. To understand commitment and the effects of non-government food programs, we conducted qualitative interviews with key actors at community organizations. Specifically we articulated 1) how decisions are made by community organizations to sustain commitment to non-government food programs to hunger; and 2) the effects of one non-government food program, backpack programs, on guidance counselors. In our first manuscript, we described how key actors at community organizations think about hunger, what they want, what they assume, how they identify themselves using tenants of Clark’s social policy theory; and what about non-government food programs engenders their commitment. We learned that all organizations want to be involved in the well-being of the community, and non-government food programs provide a variety of ways in which community members can be involved. Faith-based organizations want to provide outreach programs that serve a perceived need in the community, and are interesting to their congregants. Many school participants reported that because of their commitment to students, they see themselves as little more than a mechanism through which food programs are provided, and believe they have little power to make suggestions to influence the food programs. Food bank participants identified that their role is to provide best practices and financial and logistical support for food programs. In our second manuscript, we described what types of non-government food programs are implemented through schools, how the daily routines of professional school counselors have changed to accommodate such programs, and positive and negative effects of these programs on staff and their teaching responsibilities. We learned that backpack programs provide professional school counselors with additional opportunities to engage with students and families and bring awareness of hunger to the local community. They can detract from professional school counselors’ other responsibilities in schools (e.g., one-on-one meetings with students, staff meetings). From both manuscripts, we learned that providing food to others is a powerful act, and through these programs, food banks and faith-based organizations can provide a highly positive experience to their volunteers. Many of these programs are systematized and packaged by local food banks, making it accessible and easy for faithbased and other organizations to adopt. Seeking to improve the well-being of the community by ending hunger is not the primary value on which organizations focus; instead, it is the process of fulfilling other values (i.e., forming or maintaining relationships within the community), maintaining identity, and appealing to their participants that strengthens their commitment to non-government food programs. Similar to other non-government food programs, backpack programs obscure a discussion about poverty and provide an illusion of a solution to hunger.

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