In the News
Topeka Capital-Journal | Todd Fertig
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran is at the confluence of difference-makers during the pandemic that challenges the food security of Kansas, the U.S. and the world.
As a representative of one of the leading agricultural states, Moran understands where food comes from. As a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, he understands what agriculture means to the economy of Kansas. And as co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, he understands the tenuousness of food security.
On Tuesday, Moran helped distribute boxes of food at Oakland United Methodist Church, 801 N.E. Chester Ave. in Topeka, to meet Topekans who need help putting meals on their tables. Moran worked side by side with volunteers of Operation Food Secure to better understand the needs of Kansans and to share his appreciation for those in the trenches making sure Topekans don’t go hungry.
“There are a lot of needs in Kansas, and I’m learning even more today that the need for food may be at an all-time high for people who can’t otherwise provide for themselves and their families,” Moran said. “This season — Thanksgiving — is a time for us to say ‘thank you.’ I wanted to thank the volunteers, the Topeka Rescue Mission, and others who are trying to make a difference in people’s lives. But I also want to make sure that the programs we are providing under the CARES Act are making a difference in people’s lives.”
Operation Food Secure is an initiative of Topeka Rescue Mission designed to strategically address food insecurity in Northeast Kansas. It brings together churches, nonprofits, tribes and neighborhood improvement associations to distribute fresh produce, cheese and dairy products from the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
The program began as an effort to use farm products that were at risk of being wasted at the outset of the pandemic. When commerce and supply lines were disrupted by COVID-19, food producers were in danger of going out of business, and wasting vast quantity of food in the process. The federal government sought charitable organizations who could provide a vital link to consumers. Since late May, OFS has distributed more than 2.6 million meals, supplementing the other food provision programs in the Topeka area.
And yet the need continues to grow. Cars were lined up around the block waiting to receive boxes of food.
“I never dreamed that we would see the kind of need that we are seeing,” said Barry Feaker, director of the Topeka Rescue Mission. “This program is really a stabilizing force for many people.”
Feaker described to Moran the local food delivery efforts of Operation Food Secure. He said Moran witnessed first hand the growing food insecurity of Topekans.
“This is an unprecedented time, and we have to think outside the box,” Feaker said. “Having Sen. Moran here today is a clear example of his care and all the efforts he’s making to address the needs on a local level.”
Moran recently cosponsored a Senate resolution designating this past Oct. 16 as World Food Day, and he has held meetings to discuss global food security and environmental sustainability.
“Even in Kansas, the breadbasket of the world, we have significant challenges in our own communities,” Moran said. “So while it’s disappointing that there are so many people in need, it’s also encouraging that there are so many people who step forward to make a difference, to try to solve the problem.
“People who used to volunteer to help others and now needing help themselves. The numbers are growing. People who never would have thought they would need help are in need today.”
Moran acknowledged Tuesday that Kansas is in a unique position. It can come to the aid of hungry people around the world. But it can also further elevate its status as a producer, and affirm the need for farm-friendly public policy.
“We can help feed people and try to solve their hunger needs because it’s the right thing to do,” Moran said. “But we can also make the case that we are producers in our state. We are an ag state. In this case, when farmers are hurting, they have a market for their produce. We’re helping farmers today, and we’re helping those who eat what farmers produce.
“Kansas, a place that produces food, ought to be helpful to those places that need food. If we can produce more, we can help reduce the world’s hunger situation by having efficient, quality agriculture.”
Feaker praised the successes of Operation Food Secure in 2020. But he emphasized that challenges lie ahead, particularly in the new year, when CARES Act funds may run out, moratoriums on evictions cease and other programs lapse.
“I am a proponent of doing as much on the private and local level as we can,” Feaker said. “This is the time we need to work diligently with government. The need is so big now that we’ve got to come together. And we’ve got to realize that we’re going to be doing this for a while. If we don’t, I can’t imagine what the consequences will be.”
Moran praised the collaborative design of Operation Food Secure and programs like it.
“We rarely solve our problems if it is something that just comes from government,” Moran said. “We are much more likely to get a good result whenever the community is involved. And there is no better way to care for people than when it is person to person, heart to heart. When you have someone who cares about their neighbors, that’s the way we solve problems. We change the world, in my view, one soul at a time, one person at a time.”