We are excited to share a blog post from Lauren Banister, a University of Vermont student leader who spent the summer interning at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Lauren attended our August summit and shared her experiences with her peers from 30 other chapters. This piece was originally posted on MAZON’s Blog on August 23, 2018.
This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to intern at MAZON’s Washington, D.C. office. As a rising senior at the University of Vermont who is passionate about fighting hunger, this was the perfect opportunity for me. Over the course of my ten-week internship, I was fully immersed in the work of MAZON’s policy team, which enabled me to further expand my knowledge on food insecurity, food policy and anti-hunger advocacy.
Throughout my collegiate experience, I have always seen myself as an anti-hunger advocate. This passion started at my university’s chapter of Challah for Hunger, an advocacy organization that bakes and sells challah to raise money for other anti-hunger groups—including MAZON—and educates the campus community on issues of food insecurity. My internship at MAZON has helped me expand my advocacy skills beyond the campus setting and gain an understanding of how advocacy can impact anti-hunger efforts on the national level.
As many of you who follow MAZON know, the Farm Bill is up for reauthorization at the end of September. This piece of legislation governs spending and structure for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other programs that help people afford the food they need to thrive.
My first day on the job fell right after a very important Farm Bill vote, when the House of Representatives voted down their version of the Farm Bill. This was good news in the anti-hunger world, as the bill included very harmful, ideologically-based changes that would take much-needed SNAP benefits away from millions of Americans. On my first day, I was able to attend strategy meetings on how to respond to this latest development. Frantically scribbling down acronyms and members of congress to research after the meeting, I realized how much I was going to learn this summer and how lucky I was to be working with MAZON during such an important time.
By my second day on the job, I joined my colleagues for lobby visits on Capitol Hill to discuss the Farm Bill and other legislation around food security. I still couldn’t believe how quickly I had been thrown into the action!
Throughout my internship, I was able to engage in several other types of advocacy as well. I attended coalition meetings and learned the importance of building relationships with other advocacy groups to coordinate strategies and achieve the most powerful advocacy actions. I collected stories of people who received temporary relief from SNAP to highlight the importance of the program. I gathered research and analysis on specific populations where food insecurity is especially prevalent, so we could educate policymakers about who is struggling and how they can be helped.
One of the most memorable days of the internship was when the two donors who made my internship possible, Dr. Peter and Ruth Laibson, visited D.C. to see the work I was doing. Ruth is a longtime MAZON board member and Peter is a distinguished UVM alumnus. We turned their visit into an opportunity to engage in advocacy by going together to Capitol Hill to visit the entire Vermont delegation. Joining the Laibsons for this lobby day gave me a chance to represent MAZON’s work, as well as connect the issues to my work on college student food insecurity back UVM, which the Vermont offices were interested to learn about.
In the weeks following my internship, I had time to reflect on this experience back in my home state of Massachusetts. Advocating for people’s right to be able to afford healthy and nutritious food was energizing. During my time at MAZON, I left the office every single day having learned something new and having found a new inspiration to continue this work.
When I return to my campus in the fall, the skills I have gained at MAZON will allow me to hit the ground running. I will be able to share the fundamental lessons I’ve learned in advocacy with my Challah for Hunger chapter and channel this into a project on campus food insecurity. I will also continue to gain experience with the legislative process while interning in Senator Patrick Leahy’s Burlington, Vermont office. Interning with MAZON was an unforgettable experience that has taught me skills that I will take with me as I continue to work to ensure this country is a place where everyone can thrive.