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Season 5 - Episode 549
Proximity, policy and research play significant roles in the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty’s fight to end food insecurity. In this Baylor Connections, Jeremy Everett, BCHP executive director, conveys the heart behind the call to feed the hungry—both close to home and around the world—and examines how relationships, high-level research and multi-sector partnerships boost the work they do.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor Leaders, professors and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith. Today, we're pleased to have Jeremy Everett back on the program. Jeremy serves as executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, which advances multi-disciplinary and multi-sector approaches to ending hunger. BCHP, as we call it for short, provides leadership across private and public sectors, to facilitate approaches to end food insecurity with programs like Meals-to-You, scaling to address food needs across the nation. Jeremy Everett founded BCHP as the Texas Hunger Initiative and is the author of the 2019 book, I Was Hungry: Cultivating Common Good to End an American Crisis. So many different things you're doing, it's impossible to summarize them all, you and your team, but we're excited to dive into that here over the next 20 minutes or so. Jeremy, happy holidays to you, a late Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Thanks for joining us today.
Jeremy Everett:Thanks, Derek. It's always a pleasure to be able to join you and the KWBU team.
Derek Smith:Yeah. Well, we're excited to talk about the great work that you're doing, which we've talked about for a long time and seen it grow. Here we are as on the cusp of 2023, so let's ask you about this past year. Just start off, every year brings new opportunities and new challenges in the work that you're in. This is a broad question to start off, but as you look back at the past year at the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, what are some of the moments that are going to stand out as distinct?
Jeremy Everett:Yeah, that's a great question. Yeah. I would say that the most distinctive thing is for us as an organization, we're about to turn 14 years old, which is hard to believe that we've been at it for 14 years. It's been a natural time for us, coming out of the pandemic, to be reflective and say, okay, what are we doing well? What's been working well? And then what can we do to improve access to food for families, whether that's in the United States or around the world? We've seen a significant shift in our work, to having a more global presence. And then really trying to capitalize on the fact that we have 24,000 organizational partners on the ground in the US, and then organizations that represent 50 million people in 123 countries now, around the world. For us, and as a university, achieving R1 status has really been a tremendous feat. So, leaning into those partnerships, leveraging our research capability, all to try to impact people's access to food, so that they can live an active, healthy lifestyle.
Derek Smith:Jeremy, we've known about you here for a long time, but it seemed like during the pandemic, at least from a media standpoint and a coverage standpoint, a lot more people did with Meals-to-You. That's just one example of ways that your work has grown, your scale has grown, your team continues to grow. Yeah. How is that expansion? You mentioned you're looking more globally now. How does that fuel new opportunities to lead and serve? How do you determine what the right courses are, when you probably have way more options than you used to?
Jeremy Everett:Yeah, that's a great question. I would say, well, first of all, Meals-to-You program, I think surprised us all, in many respects. In 2019, it was our smallest program of 19 projects that we were currently testing out. As you mentioned earlier, our job is to cultivate scalable solutions in hunger. So, we are always looking for, what are we testing out in McAllen that can also work at Lubbock or Dallas, that we could transition to Des Moines or Washington, DC or even around the globe? We approach everything that we do with a three-pronged approach. So, we want to make sure that we're combining research with practice or proximity and transitioning all of that to strengthen public policy. As it relates to practice, we oftentimes quote Brian Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy, who says, "You can't solve a social problem from a distance. You have to have proximity to the problem." As you know, we've been committed to having field offices around the state of Texas, working with our organizational partners around the US and around the globe, so that we can see what's happening on a day-to-day basis, and then take that and combine that with our researchers. We have about 55 research fellows now who work with us. Those researchers are evaluating and doing randomized controlled trials. They're really trying to tease out, what exactly is the problem of food insecurity, whether that be in Texas or around the world? When we combine those two, when we combine proximity with research, we're more likely to develop solutions that work, as opposed to uninformed innovation. So, we're grateful to have a neat team. What happened with Meals-to-You is interesting. I had served on a congressional commission from 2014 to 2016. It was a 10-member bipartisan commission. We traveled around the country, to hear directly from people that were food insecure, meet with organizations that were addressing the issue, and ultimately report back to Congress and then President Obama and Secretary Vilsack, on ways that we could improve food security in the US. One of the things that we identified is that what worked in urban America didn't translate to rural America. So, we launched in partnership with the following administration, this Meals-to-You project, where essentially when kids get out of school during the summer months, if they don't have access to a USDA summer meal site... Many of the children who are in high poverty households may not have consistent access to food, so we see childhood food insecurity or child hunger spike in the summer months, particularly in rural America, because kids don't have access to grocery stores or nonprofits that are providing those summer meal programs. So, we decided if we couldn't get the kids to the meal programs, we had to get the meal programs to the kids. We partnered with McLane Global, Denton McLane, a Baylor alumni, to pilot an intervention for 20 school districts in east and west Texas, for 4,000 children over a 10-week period, where we mailed them a box of food, essentially a week's worth of USDA food, every week over that 10-week period. Each box would have five breakfasts, five lunches and five snacks. So, we end up serving 500,000 meals and snacks to kids in the summer of 2019. Program worked great. Our researchers showed that it had three times the positive impact of the National School Lunch Program, on addressing child food insecurity, and the National School Lunch program is the gold standard. That was the smallest program that we were working on at the time. Little did we know what was in store for us the following year.
Derek Smith:Mm-hmm. Probably the answer to this question is enough things that we could take up the whole program, but I'll ask you. What did you learn from ramping up a program like that, that as you said, was the smallest of your 19, to the next thing you know, you're being relied on by the USDA to make a big dent during the pandemic?
Jeremy Everett:Yeah. I mean, again, our job is to cultivate scalable solutions to end hunger. So, each year I have the privilege of probably visiting in some years hundreds of organizations, that are on the ground doing meaningful work. Oftentimes, you might see a given project that's happening on the ground that is incredibly meaningful, but might be specific to the location or specific to the individuals who have put it together. While I think that is amazing, and we need that ultimately, if we're going to end hunger, we need those contextualized solutions. But for us as an organization, our job is to cultivate scale and to really use that research proximity and policy-pronged approach to actually address this in a comprehensive way. What happened for us with the Meals-to-You program is, I happened to be in DC during the spring break week of March 2020. I got a phone call from the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue's office. They asked me to come over to his office, the Whitten Building, right there on the mall, just down from the Capitol, right there on the row of Smithsonian buildings in DC. That is not a usual occurrence, I want to say, for a secretary to call and require you to come over immediately. I didn't know what had happened. When I got over there, his under secretary, a guy named Brandon Lipps, who was just a tremendous individual, Texan, was there to meet me. He said, "Jeremy, schools are about to shut down nationwide because of the pandemic. We don't have a plan or program to get food to children in rural America. When urban and suburban schools shut down, we're going to set up curbside meal programs. So, we got a pretty good idea on how we're going to do that, but we don't have an option for kids in rural America." He said, "Is there any way you can scale up Meals-To-You to go nationwide?" Honestly, between you and I and maybe the listeners, I guess, my staff wasn't with me. So I was like, "Yeah, sure. We can do it." Initially, he thought we might go from 4,000 kids to 25,000 kids. By the end of the day, I get another phone call in my hotel room, said, "Looks like it's going to be 50,000 kids." By the end of the week, it looked like it was going to be 150,000 kids. And then ultimately, it was 270,000 kids that signed up for the program. These are children that live in America's most remote areas. We literally had kids, children in remote Alaska. One of the superintendents call me and said, "We are 300 miles from the nearest road system." So, we had to take seaplanes, helicopters. I even heard stories of dogsled teams taking boxes of food directly to children in these remote areas. The Havasu Tribal community in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, received boxes of food via mule teams, and then UPS drivers and USPS drivers did it everywhere else. We recruited a couple of companies to join McLane Global. Chartwells, which is the nation's largest school food provider, and PepsiCo has a social enterprise arm called Food for Good, led by a guy named Matt Smith. Just amazing, talented individuals, all who feel compelled to end hunger and to use their capabilities to do so. So, we ended up serving 40 million meals during the shutdown that following summer, to children in 43 states plus Puerto Rico. Didn't see that coming when we initially had the vision for Meals-to-You. So, it quickly became the largest thing that we'd ever done, which was a real tremendous feat for our team members. We had staff that were working hundred-hour work weeks for months on end, to be able to pull that thing together. So, very grateful for them for the work that they did.
Derek Smith:Jeremy, the picture you paint there, A, it's incredible. But B, it also stands out that when you're talking about Baylor, the US government, PepsiCo, McLane Global, it's that multi-sector approach. How significant is that idea of engaging different stakeholders to the work you and your team do at BCHP?
Jeremy Everett:Well, we don't believe that any one sector or any one organization or individual for that matter, has the capability to end hunger by themselves. If you think about most big, complex issues that we're currently trying to address or living with as a nation or as a world, very rarely is one sector going to be able to tackle it alone. I oftentimes will be in congregations and will hear churches say, "It's our job to end hunger." I'll be with federal government folks, and they'll say, "It's our job to end hunger." The answer is yes. It's all of our jobs to end hunger. Even a university like ours, it's our job to collectively and hunger. It's just too big and too complex for any one of us to do on our own. So, if you have the federal government and a strong university like Baylor and great companies and nonprofit organizations and school districts all working in concert with each other, bringing their best to bear to try to solve a complicated issue, that's when we see transformative change. That's how I think we can really see society continue to move forward, even in some of our most difficult times.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Jeremy Everett, executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty. Jeremy, you talked earlier about one of the prongs, as you talk about proximity, research and policy. Let's talk about research for a little bit because that's an area that has grown pretty steadily in recent years, within BCHP. Where are some places we might find BCHP researchers gathering information? How does that support what you do? How do you use this, a qualitative, quantitative, all of the above? What does that look like?
Jeremy Everett:Yeah. Well, first of all, it looks like me having to hire people that are a lot smarter than I am. I think we can all be grateful that we have some brilliant researchers, that can somehow communicate to me what they are up to on a daily basis. We just had the privilege this past year, of partnering with Jim and Tammy Snee. Jim is the CEO of Hormel company. They've now got a Baylor Connection, a Baylor student. We were able to partner with them to develop an endowed chair and recruit Dr. Craig Gundersen, who is the nation's leading food security researcher, to Baylor. He is now an economist at the Baylor Collaborative and in the economics department at our business school. Just a huge win for us as an organization. He and our researchers have research happening in every county in the United States right now, which is just remarkable. What they do is they help us paint a picture. They help us through qualitative research, listening directly to individuals who are experiencing food insecurity, and help us better understand of what the plight of food insecurity looks like in 2022 in the United States. They do quantitative research. So, they're looking at, what is scalable impact? What's working? That Meals-to-You program that we just referenced, had six different teams of faculty doing research, everything from a programmatic evaluation, was the program efficient and effective? Looking at it from a food security standpoint, did it have an impact on food insecurity? Certainly it did. Looking at it from a nutrition standpoint, did it have a positive nutritional impact on children who participated in the program? Really, even looking at it from a supply chain logistics standpoint. So, really looking at every intervention that we do, with this 360 view, so that we can see what's working and needs to be scaled, versus what is not working and may need to be shelved.
Derek Smith:Well, that's exciting. The Snee chair, we had the chance to visit with Dr. Gundersen for Baylor Magazine, a while back. Just a fascinating guy, who obviously his passion for his work comes through talking to him. I know he's not the only one there. You've got a whole team. How does that team approach support, really his work, but not just his work, but everyone's work there at BCHP?
Jeremy Everett:Well, I think first and foremost, when you meet Craig or Dr. Gundersen, you realize very quickly, he's an economist that could've done anything with his career. He's a brilliant individual, certainly a very passionate individual. But he, like our other colleagues, are animated by faith. So it's like, why are we growing a conglomeration of faculty and staff and students who are beginning to migrate to Baylor University to address food insecurity? We're not an Ag university. We're Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana. How does this fit? It fits because we're animated by our faith perspective. Hunger is one of those frequently discussed issues that we are supposed to address as people of faith, all throughout scripture. I mean, it's a part of who we are as a Christian community. So many of our researchers are compelled to do the work that they do because of their faith perspective. Certainly, Dr. Gundersen is one of those individuals. So, I think that's one of the reasons that we see the passion for innovation and the passion for top-notch research at the Baylor Collaborative, is because people are compelled by their faith. They know that their work is going to have a direct impact on accessibility to food for a child. Whether they be in remote Guatemala or remote Alaska, or an older adult who's living in Kansas, that they're all going to be impacted by the work that they're doing on a daily basis. It's really been a pleasure, just to be able to be a part of and be a witness to.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Jeremy Everett here on Baylor Connections. Jeremy, we've talked a little bit about proximity and research. Let's talk a little bit about policy. There's a number of different threads you can be a part of, whether it's your work with the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, whether it's advocates and staff members here in Waco. What does your approach at BCHP look like when it comes to policy?
Jeremy Everett:We really take a shared power approach. What that means is that we don't really believe that one party has the opportunity, essentially to promote sustainable social change. Because as we've seen, if one party moves forward with one particular political agenda, the other party's going to spend the better part of the next decade trying to undo it. Everything that we do, we try to do in a bipartisan capacity. So, just like we try to have a multi-sectorial interventions on the local level, getting the business sector working with government and nonprofits and faith communities, we try to do the same thing when we're working in Washington, DC or Austin, Texas. That is, we want both sides of the aisle to be represented. Tomorrow, I head to Washington, DC, where I'll end up testifying before the Senate Committee on Aging on Thursday. So, all to that end. So how can we work together? How can we see Republicans and Democrats work together to try to address hunger for our growing elderly adult population around the US and for people who live with a disability in the household? Those are the things that we try to do. So everything that we do, we're working with both sides of the aisle. As you probably have heard before, the thing about bridge builders is, you get walked on by both sides. So, I think sometimes it's a good idea in theory. In practice, sometimes it can be painful. But Baylor came up with this language maybe a decade ago, when we launched Pro Futuris, this idea of informed engagement. That's really what we try to do on a policy level, is we want our elected officials to have access to current and relevant research. We want them to know what's working on the ground and what we believe can be scaled, so that as they debate policy, they will have that in mind so that they know what they can do to make the most difference for people who are in food insecure households in the United States. Whether they're Republicans or Democrats, that doesn't matter to us. I do believe that we're all called to address this issue. It doesn't matter what party we ascribe to. This past fall, I was invited to represent the Baylor Collaborative and the university at the White House Hunger Summit. It was a bipartisan event in Washington, DC. One of the first things that came out of the president's mouth, is that no one sector can end hunger alone. It's going to require us all to work together to end hunger. So, it was neat to see something that we've been articulating on all of our Hill visits, every time we've met with... It didn't matter who was in the White House, whether it was President Obama or President Trump, or now President Biden. All of our communication to them has been as such. So, it was neat to see that reflected in that Hunger Summit and for a moment, for us all to look up to the horizon together as a community and say, "What can we do to actually end hunger?" Instead of just trying to incrementally improve food access, how can we begin to dream about a world without hunger and then plan accordingly? That was a real positive moment for us in the policy space, to see our ideology reflected at the highest level.
Derek Smith:Well, that's exciting. It was exciting to see more opportunities like that come along. Frankly, Jeremy, we could talk a lot longer about these opportunities, but I know we're winding down on the program here. So as we do, I'm just curious. Looking ahead to 2023 here, what are you excited about? What most animates or motivates you and your team, as you look at the new year?
Jeremy Everett:We are going through a strategic planning process right now and looking to 2030. The UN has sustainable development goals that are targeted in 2030. The White House wanted us to start looking to 2030. We were already in that process to say, what do we want to do in 2030? I think the first 14 years for us has largely been about proving the concept. Can you build multi-sectorial collaboration? Can you get people to work together to address this issue in a comprehensive way, on a local, state and federal level and even on a global level? I think we know now, yes. So, I see the next seven years being all about the Baylor family. I think the only way that we possibly really significantly move the needle is to unleash our faculty to do the research that they have the capability of doing and leveraging our partnerships. We now have partnerships with UN agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program, in the United States, USAID, USDA. All kinds of big, multi-national organ companies that we can leverage, and to turn those loose or to turn our faculty loose on them, to be able to see how we can bend the needle towards justice, I think is something that we'll see doing. But really unleashing our students and our alumni, they have a huge amount of influence and capability. I cannot wait to see our students take innovation to a level that we cannot possibly fathom. So, it's all about the Baylor family, I feel like for us, as we look towards 2030.
Derek Smith:Well, it's exciting to see the growth. You are poised for what you described. You mentioned the Baylor family. If people would like to learn more, Baylor.edu/HungerandPoverty. You could Google Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, but it's Baylor.edu/HungerandPoverty. Well, Jeremy, Happy New Year to you and your team. We appreciate the work you do and appreciate you taking the time today to share what's been going on over the last year and what's ahead.
Jeremy Everett:Well, it's always an honor and a gift to talk to you, Derek. Thank you for highlighting the work that we're up to.
Derek Smith:Well, thank you very much. Appreciate that, Jeremy. Jeremy Everett, executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear the extent of the programs online, Baylor.edu/Connections. You can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.