A Forum for All: food insecurity in Kansas

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There are few issues with as much reach as food insecurity. In Riley County, Kansas where I currently live while attending Kansas State University, the rate of food insecurity is 17.9 percent, which far exceeds the national average of 12.3 percent.

With the understanding that far too many of my neighbors did not know where their next meal would come from, I jumped at an opportunity to help organize a Food Justice Forum with Kansas Appleseed and other community partners earlier this spring. My role with Food Recovery Network and other food-focused service and advocacy groups had allowed me to collaborate with some of the partners in previous efforts, and those relationships connected me to the Forum.

After weeks of collaborating, our team of seven different organizations put on an event with an attendance of nearly 50 people from all over the county. There were people who were experiencing food insecurity themselves, people who volunteered their time with food pantries and community meal serving, people who work to provide information about healthy eating and services to alleviate the financial burden of food-purchasing like SNAP, people studying food science, and many more. The forum was structured as a group effort to answer a set of questions about food insecurity, including discussions of those who are most vulnerable to hunger, its adverse effects, and potential solutions.

By the end of the discussion, ideas and perspectives were shared by nearly everyone in the room. Many people stayed long after the wrap-up to gather contact information from other attendees to keep the conversation moving forward. Though we all had our own reasons for being interested in and passionate about the issues of food justice and food security, we recognized that the best way to continue making progress is to do so together.

I learned several important lessons from planning and organizing a successful event with a coalition of other organizations. My main takeaways and pieces of advice for other event-planners are as follows:

Join up with other interested organizations

When trying to organize an event like a forum, town hall, or panel discussion, going it alone, especially as a college student already stretched by various commitments, is not a route I’d recommend. Solo ventures offer little accountability, fewer resources to pull from, and less collective bargaining power when compared to a group effort. Joining up with like-minded groups passionate about furthering a certain cause or event can boost your people-power.

Meet in person to discuss the structure of the event

Figuring out the nitty gritty details of an event–including where it will be held and how the organizing responsibilities will be divided–is much easier to decide in person. While it may feel more convenient to coordinate via email or through a shared document, face-to-face contact and real-time discussions can be much more conducive to quick and simple planning.

Reach out to your networks early and often to promote the event

I know from personal experience just how discouraging it can be to face a sparsely populated room at an event you dedicated time and energy to plan. Set yourself up for success by reaching out to a wide range of groups both on and off campus––even those that might only be indirectly related to your cause. Use every method at your disposal to promote your event, like Facebook, Instagram, email, listservs, sidewalk-chalking, poster-hanging, tabling or handing out flyers in public spaces, making announcements in classrooms, talking with friends, etc. If you want a lot of people to know about the event, you have to meet them where they are. They won’t know to come looking for you and your event unless they’ve been made aware of it.