To support grassroots solutions to hunger, the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano has piloted the Speaker Series. This advocacy-training program for community members with lived experiences of hunger is designed to lift up the voices of real people facing hunger issues so they can become agents for change in their community.
The Food Bank‘s inaugural Speaker Series kicked off in 2017 with the Vallejo-based food pantry Faith Food Fridays and Toastmasters International. This year the Food Bank and Toastmasters co-hosted the Speaker Series with the financial services nonprofit SparkPoint Contra Costa in Bay Point.
The 3-month program consists of weekly workshops on public speaking, advocacy, and civic engagement. The participants come together to share their stories of hunger and build a community of hunger fighters.
Patricia Romero-Aguasvivas, a graduate from the first Speaker Series class, returned as a facilitator and encouraged others to speak out against hunger. “I decided to come back because after participating in last year’s series, I had a real feeling of empowerment,” she said. “I felt confident in talking about something that is so personal to me…and advocating towards ending hunger.”
Graduates from both Speaker Series attended Hunger Action Day in May in Sacramento to put their advocacy skills to work. Participants met face-to-face with their state elected officials, shared their personal stories of hunger and called for the passage of public policies that support food access and economic security.
Community members and elected officials attending June’s release of the Food Bank’s Hunger Study results also heard from some of the graduates of the Speaker Series as they described what it’s really like to be food insecure.
“It’s more powerful for an elected official to hear directly from those who are personally affected by hunger and poverty,” said Mary Ann Buggs, Advocacy & Community Engagement Coordinator at the Food Bank. “It puts a face on the issues. That’s what these graduates are able to accomplish.”
This year’s graduating class more than tripled in size, growing from 4 to 14! Jesse Alvarez, a senior and disabled veteran from Antioch who graduated from this year’s Speaker Series wants to see the program continue to grow. “It helped me to be confident in myself, fine tune my speaking skills, and become a positive influence in all aspects of life,” he said. “I am a proud advocate against hunger.”