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Arizona Hunger Policy Task Force Receives $20,000 SPARK Grant from Vitalyst Foundation in 2022 — ELCA Grand Canyon Synod

The Vitalyst Health Foundation announced that the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Arizona (LAMA) and its partners at the Arizona Hunger Policy Workgroup have been awarded a 2022 SPARK grant. Each year, Vitalyst evaluates opportunities to invest in the catalytic work of community organizing. The $20,000 grant was one of eleven SPARK grants awarded by Vitalyst this year.

Arizona Hunger Policy Workgroup partners include Bread for the World, World Hunger Ecumenical Arizona Task-Force (WHEAT), Arizona Food Bank Network, Arizona Food Systems Network, Arizona Faith Network, and Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Arizona (LAMA).

Vitalyst, a foundation dedicated to improving wellness in Arizona by addressing the root causes and broader issues that affect health, suggests the proposed project should use a health equity lens to address two things. or more of a healthy community in order to imagine a solution that is more effective, equitable or sustainable than existing approaches.

The intent of Spark Grants is to support collaborations on their journey to systemic change. The key criteria for Spark grants are: a problem clearly identified by the community most affected, a defined system where the work would occur, the majority of partners have engaged in conversation and are willing to work together, but there is no no solution identified. Spark Grants are planning grants – they are intended to fund partners’ time to find solutions, not to fund an already identified solution, pilot or research.

The Hunger Policy Working Group’s winning grant application proposed to explore how hunger policy advocacy could be more effective and ultimately successful if all known and interested hunger advocates in Arizona were collaborating on policy initiatives for the 2023 Arizona legislative session.

The concern identified by the working group is there are dozens of networks, state agencies, nonprofits, and faith communities that care about the nearly one million people in Arizona who face hunger every day, not to mention the numerous food banks, local food pantries and distribution centers throughout the state. Everyone has a stake in improving the lives of food-insecure Arizonans, and therefore everyone has a stake in the success of hunger policy initiatives in the state legislature. Each works on the issue using their individual resources – some have political experience and legislative connections, others have statistics and records, still others have human resources, or networks, or access to funding, or a story in the communities they serve. But no one has all the tools and resources needed to effect lasting system change. In the absence of a focused and collaborative approach to advocating for hunger policies, legislators have shown little interest or enthusiasm in meeting to discuss, let alone pass legislation to address the hunger problem in Arizona.

The working group’s proposal: All known and interested hunger advocates will be invited by the Hunger Policy Workgroup to participate in a one-day retreat in August 2022 at the Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Carefree, Arizona. Every effort will be made to ensure that all underserved communities in Arizona are represented, with particular attention to Indigenous representation and food deserts. Guided by a respected facilitator knowledgeable on the subject and skilled in group dynamics, participants will collaborate on an advocacy plan for the Hunger Policy for the 2023 legislative session. The tasks necessary to execute the plan will be shared within of the group, and all participants will adopt and promote the plan in their respective networks. Presented with a focused, collaborative plan endorsed by all hunger advocacy organizations in the state, we believe lawmakers will be much more likely to review and adopt the plan, and pass the resulting legislation. .

The task force envisions a continued commitment by the legislature to address the root causes of hunger in Arizona, whether poverty, job instability, food shortages and waste, poor infrastructure, climate change, quality of nutrition, racial and gender inequalities, etc. build bridges with policy makers through creative partnerships, education on the facts and context of hunger, and advanced messaging for 2022 election candidates. The task force anticipates that the results could be a engaged conversation, investments, informed policy, and the convening of a Hunger and/or Basic Needs Caucus – a committee that has not been active in the Arizona Legislature since 2003.

Marcus Johnson, director of state health policy and advocacy for Vitalyst, said the board unanimously agreed to award the Arizona Lutheran Ministry of Advocacy a Spark grant to support the work of the Hunger Policy Task Force, and is delighted to be a partner in this important work.