March 10, 2022

By Community Engagement Team

Reflecting on Food Access is Community Care

WithinReach hosted its first-ever Food Access is Community Care series last month. The series featured six sessions with incredible folks, spotlighting their work and expertise in the ways food access work can manifest in various communities. The intention behind the series was to center an intersectional approach to the ways food access can look and feel – and we did just that! 

Our network is quickly growing and some may be new to our work or need a refresher; therefore, it feels important to share a bit more about where WithinReach is located in this food access realm. Our work is statewide, making us available to any individual or family in Washington state who needs help navigating our social safety net programs. Our role exists because accessing help is complex and there are a number of barriers which exacerbate inequities for people from diverse communities to access support. Here are some of the ways WithinReach challenges these barriers: 

  • Providing foundational education for people who are new to seeking assistance. We help individuals understand the programs and benefits that are available to them, how these programs can help, provide timely screening to confirm the programs they qualify for and help them apply.  
  • Providing service in folks’ home languages and culturally responsive customer service, by hiring staff who represent the communities we are serving. 
  • Delivering non-judgmental, people-centered customer service. 
  • Delivering wraparound support in all programs we have expertise in, so people are not stuck piecing together a puzzle of support. Instead, individuals receive timely one-stop assistance in identifying what is out there and how to access it. 

Although we are engaged with this work deeply, we also know there are a lot of ways for us to keep growing and learning. Over the course of our Food Access is Community Care series, we learned new ways of thinking about our work. 

We recognize that there are people we are not yet reaching who could really benefit from our support and services, particularly BIPOC folks. By bringing forth the incredible community organizers and educators for this series, we learned a key approach in this work: uplifting the voices of the folks who do this work every single day, and building relationships with them that go beyond transactional ways of relating, toward deeper connection. These speakers left us reflecting on the “bigger work” we can do in challenging barriers and re-writing the systems we help people navigate every day, so that they are navigable without our help – or better yet, not needed at all. 

We learned that relationships play a key role in our ability to build trust and connections within communities, and to help us visualize alternative systems and realities to food access. We witnessed through our speakers that another world is truly possible, one that goes beyond theoretical frameworks, humanizes the experiences of access and community care, and challenges colonial or oppressive frames.

As Roxana Pardo Garcia from Alimentando al Pueblo put so beautifully, “we cannot be affirmed in what we do not see.” In other words, representation of other people who look and identify similarly to you is central to our collective ability to imagine a food system that is for all of us, not just some of us. A food system where there is always enough, where WE are always enough. 

Joy Hollingsworth from Northwest Harvest gave us such invaluable tools to begin dismantling system barriers to access food. Some of these tools included: centering senior communities and schools, uplifting social workers and services, serving all zip codes with no restrictions, providing fresh produce and culturally-relevant food, and advocating for fresh markets in historically Black and brown neighborhoods.  

Prita Lal, Ph.D. from Evergreen State College taught us about food justice and the reframe from “food desert” to “food apartheid.” We learned that the term “food apartheid” emphasizes the structural causes of these areas that lack fresh food access, rather than a “desert,” which seems more like a condition in nature. Prita also taught us about food justice being the “movement of all movements.” In other words, once we can agree that every human is inherently deserving of food, other systems of oppression and their movements naturally come to the table – sparking deeper activism and justice.  

Valerie Segrest from Tahoma Peak Solutions taught us about our relationship to land, and how central it is to see food beyond a commodity, but rather as one of our greatest teachers. Melissa Miranda from Musang showed us what it means to connect with our ancestors beyond language and form to feel a sense of home no matter the circumstance. Melissa told us, the one thing we can all seemingly come together over is food. Food becomes a language that can reach so many people and hopefully create the opportunity for deeper connection.

We learned from some of our WithinReach team members that even though there are so many misconceptions wrapped up in food access work and barriers to those who are most marginalized, we are ALL inherently worthy of care and access, even if the world can spin a different narrative about our worthiness. 

We have so much gratitude to our direct service teams past and present that have helped advance our work of dismantling these systemic barriers to provide safer and more compassionate spaces for folks to get their basic needs met.  With this learning came a deep (re)commitment to our work here. It has our internal teams grappling with questions like “what is our collective commitment to food justice?”  

Our beloved team members at WithinReach share a little more about how this series has impacted them and their work here and how it may be shifting how they think about our work together: 

The Food Access is Community Care event series showed me that we can feel and hold joy when doing food access work. The speakers had genuine joy when talking about all the work they were doing in and for their communities. Sometimes when we talk about food access, we use a lot of data and share people’s adversity to make the need impactful; however food access work doesn’t always have to be rooted in trauma. Food access work can be both hard AND joyful. It makes my heart full to see leaders across all these communities thriving in the various work they’re doing and wholeheartedly wanting to make an impact AND dismantle the oppressive systems we’re a part of.” 

– Angelica 

“What an honor to sit down with so many beautiful beings to learn deeply about how care for community, culture, earth, self, ancestors and descendants shines through our commitments to food access. I’m filled with gratitude, joy, hope and inspiration. A centerpiece from these conversations that I’m holding onto is the transformative power that a shift in mindset, from scarcity to abundance, can have on our perspective, approach and vision for what is possible in this work achieving food sovereignty for all. Roxana’s hope “that we live in the abundance that exists” is a candid reminder that the food and resources we need to feed everyone already exist, it is the human-built inequities in our policies, practices and systems that keep people from food and resources they need and deserve. I see and am reminded that a pivotal responsibility in this effort is to question, challenge and rewrite the policies, practices and systems that reinforce inequities and cause harm in our communities.” 

– Maricruz 

The food access series is the most meaningful event I’ve seen put on by WithinReach in my 6 years here. Everything about it felt very intentional, from the guest speakers to the panel questions to the responses by our amazing facilitator. It was refreshing to see our agency center the amazing and creative work folks in our community are doing around food access. The guest speakers reignited my passion for food access work; I left inspired after every session. The series also cemented the importance of learning from each other, building non-performative relationships with community activists, and tackling issues in a creative, human-centered and intentional approach that is reflective of our non-profit’s place and role in racist institutions/systems we are actively trying to dismantle.” 

– Noé 

“The Food Access is Community Care series was powerful. Witnessing community members share their take on food access highlighted both the interconnectedness and common threads of this work as well as the need for different people in different roles working at different levels with different approaches to create access. The array of presenters and the insights they shared left me with a feeling of enchanted admiration. The series impacted my work through sparking inspiration and a renewed sense of togetherness, breaking a long spell of isolation and siloed-ness, that I will continue to carry into interactions with clients.” 

– Camille 

If you would like to learn more or get involved in our work here, please feel free to reach out to our Community Engagement team! We are so excited to connect with you.