We sat down with Noreen Springstead, the managing director of WhyHunger, and got the chance to learn more about what the leading organization in the fight to end hunger is all about!
Corey Baumer: First, in your own words, what does WhyHunger do, and who do you guys aim to help?
Noreen Springstead: We’re working to end hunger, and our approach to doing that includes partnering with grassroots organizations all across the U.S. and around the world that are focused on sustainable food solutions. We believe everyone deserves access to nutritious food. So that means working within communities to either grow their own food with an eye towards nutrition or with emergency food providers like food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens to incorporate more fresh food into the emergency food system. Those food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens are also installing their own community gardens or working directly with local and regional farmers to source healthier foods. Typically what happens is that corporate leftover, highly processed foods get into the food system, and that’s what America’s hungry is relying on.
CB: Can you tell us a bit about WhyHunger’s different activities and programs?
NS: One of the things we do is we run the National Hunger Hotline. Anyone in America who is hungry, whether that be a senior, a veteran, a child, a family member, a working person, or someone who’s been out of work, can call 1-866-3 HUNGRY and, through our database, we will hook them up with a referral to a local organization, a place where they can get help. We also let them know what benefits they are eligible for, whether state or federal.
We also have a Grassroots Action Network. So all the grassroots organizations that we work with, whether emergency food providers or community-food based programs, are part of this network. There’s about 8,000 of them that we’re working with on various levels. All help build the movement to end hunger, with a focus on nutritious food and the human right to food.
We also have a global movements program working in twenty-two countries with thirty-three partners focused on sustainable agriculture and helping children get the food they need. That is done as part of a campaign called Imagine that we run in collaboration with the John Lennon estate and Hard Rock International. Music is a big part of our identity, and our Artists Against Hunger & Poverty program enlists musical artists to help give voice to the issue. Last year when we did SoWe [Southern Westchester Food and Wine Festival] we helped Rich [one CEO of SoWe] with the musical entertainment because we always like to have music as a part of the activities that we do.
CB: How was WhyHunger started?
NS: We were started in 1975 by the artist and activist Harry Chapin and by our executive director, Bill Ayres. Bill was a rock and roll radio DJ who was interviewing Harry — they both really cared about hunger and started this organization, which, at the time, was called World Hunger Year. We’ve since changed it to WhyHunger (about eight years ago).
CB: How does WhyHunger differ from other organizations that help fight hunger?
NS: There are a couple differentiating factors. One is that we’re really looking to get to the root reasons of why people are hungry. A big part of what distinguishes us is that we’re not just about feeding. Feeding people is not solving the problem. We’re really looking at it from a holistic point of view, what we call nourishing. People, the planet, communities, and connecting people to nourishing food.
CB: What was your experience at SoWe like last year?
NS: We were absolutely thrilled to be part of it. To be out in the community in that celebratory sort of way where we get an opportunity to talk to people was amazing. And we love the idea of the wine partnership because at the core wine is an agricultural product and a big part of our focus on how we solve the hunger problem through growing food. And it really just felt like family in a lot of ways. Rich and Stacey [married founders and CEOs of SoWe] made it possible for us to be part of it, and they really embraced us. That sense of family and community was very palpable and very vibrant over the weekend. That was one of the really big takeaways for us: we felt part of a community that not only cared about going out and trying the wines and food but also about causes that the founders cared about. It was a huge connection for us. It was a very positive, dynamic experience.
CB: In your Artists Against Hunger & Poverty Program, who is your favorite performing artist to work with?
NS: Well, Bruce Springsteen is the founding member of Artists Against Hunger & Poverty and, in a lot of ways, he is my favorite because I’ve worked on all of his tours since 1992. He’s very humbly and quietly committed to fighting hunger in partnership with us. Through his work over the years, we’ve been able to invest millions of dollars into communities all across the U.S., so that has been amazing. The other artist who I think has made a personal commitment and is just an incredible human and humanitarian is Michael McDonald. He continues to support us. He’s an R&B singer; he plays with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. Every year he does something for us, and he is an absolute pleasure to work with.
CB: And lastly, in your own words, why do you think hunger is still a problem in this country?
NS: It’s interesting because there’s an abundance of food. It goes back to who WhyHunger is. We get a little deeper to the root causes, and I think poverty lies at the heart of hunger and, on a certain level, powerlessness. We have the resources, but we don’t have the political will, and we don’t have the right strategies in place. If somebody is working a full work week, why is he or she still struggling to feed his or her family?