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Op-Ed: Why private sector companies have a responsibility and opportunity to solve the hunger crisis

By Kamau Witherspoon, CEO of Shipt, a technology company that connects consumers to personal delivery from local and national retailers across the United States.

As a child, I remember moments where my mom had to figure out how to put food on the table. She always made it happen, but the pressure of making sure that we didn't go hungry is something I wish she never had to deal with. While I'm a CEO now and those days of stress around food for my family are gone, the hunger crisis in this country is not. As I think about priorities for the new year, at the top of my mind will be the 34 million people in the US, including the 5 million children who are still experiencing that kind of food insecurity. All of us in the private sector have a responsibility to offer a helping hand.

Food insecurity is an issue that can impact nearly every aspect of people's lives. Children experiencing food insecurity are at a higher risk of health problems such as asthma and anemia and behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, which hurts their ability to perform well in school. At-risk adults are unable to focus on daily tasks at work, making upward progression and mobility more difficult. This preventable crisis is felt most acutely within communities of color and rural communities — and the pandemic has only worsened this problem.

Food insecurity is a complex problem that requires an all-hands-on-deck solution, and, as researchers and hunger advocates have acknowledged, it is imperative that companies in the private sector step up and work together with government officials in the public sector to make progress.

Here at Shipt, we recognize both the responsibility and opportunity we have to address food insecurity and hunger — which is why I was proud to speak at the recent White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. Business leaders across the country took the opportunity of the conference to make promises to help address the national hunger crisis. It is our job now to make sure we communicate with one another and hold each other accountable to our commitments.

National companies must learn from each other — and deploy resources to address food insecurity to those local businesses and nonprofits who are on the ground making an impact every single day.

Here are two key ways we are doing just that at Shipt:

First, we are collaborating within the private sector to ensure that small, local grocers who are well-positioned to serve their communities are not left behind. Shipt is launching an accelerator program that helps small, local retailers expand their technical capabilities — both helping them reach more consumers in underserved communities and mature their own business. Just last month at a roundtable with local grocers, particularly minority-owned small businesses, we heard from them that very real technology gaps exist in their businesses, and they desire to participate in e-commerce platforms to better serve everyone in their communities.

Online shopping and delivery expand access to food in underserved communities, particularly for those with mobility or transportation barriers. There is a real impact here: A recent Brookings study found that 90% of people living in food deserts have access to grocery delivery.

Second, we launched a grant program to fund innovative nonprofits, like For Oak Cliff in Dallas, working to address hunger and food insecurity in their communities. The investment in For Oak Cliff supported the launch of a new farmers market and Community Agriculture support program. The initiative increased access to free and fresh produce for community members living in a food desert with limited access to nutritious food — while also paying fair prices to local farmers and growers, including many who were formerly incarcerated.

This is an example of how Shipt — and the private sector at large — can step in to help local communities and nonprofits address food insecurity and scarcity. Any nonprofit working to build healthier, resilient, and more equitable communities can apply to receive investment from Shipt.

While giving resources to local partners on the ground, private companies can also think about what they can do to make it easier for consumers to make healthy choices — and the Biden Administration's national strategy to address hunger can guide them towards meaningful actions. Shipt is taking steps to empower consumers to make healthy choices and enhance nutrition and food security research with our partners at the University of Michigan.

Of course, there is a vital role for the public sector to play too. At the White House event, I was encouraged to hear about the bold action the Biden Administration is taking as part of their pledge to end hunger in the US by 2030. And the omnibus package that passed late last year included support for initiatives to combat the summer hunger that so many kids across the country face. The new Congress should build on this progress and make nutrition programs a

top priority to ensure students and their families have access to nutritious food inside and outside of school. A critical element toward achieving this goal is reauthorizing the Farm Bill, which would help prioritize healthy food access for low-income families.

Simply put, we need more business leaders to also heed the call for action and collaboration. Their resources can make a major difference when put to use by small businesses and organizations that best understand local needs.

Too many in our communities quietly grapple with hunger and anxiety related to food insecurity. All of them deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential. Some of them may even become CEOs.

This post was created by Shipt with Insider Studios.

Date: 01/10/2023
Category: Flex Insights