Winning over food insecurity is not the only thing one of the key social issues of our time, but should be a top priority for believers, said Craig Gundersen, a leading expert on the subject who recently joined Baylor’s collaboration on hunger and poverty.
“Whether you are in the New Testament or the Old Testament, there are constant calls to help those in need,” Gundersen said. “We are called as Christians to figure out how best to help these people. This is not something where we can ignore those who need it most among us. We just can’t do that. ”
Gundersen, the inaugural president of the Jim and Tammy Snee family for food safety, comes to Baylor from the University of Illinois, where he was a distinguished professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics. Snee’s family chair for food safety will support Gundersen’s research under the BCHP, expanding the organization’s work to alleviate poverty and hunger in communities across the country and the world.
Jeremy Everett, Executive Director of BCHP, he said the project’s work on implementing solutions to poverty and hunger and working with lawmakers to create fairer systems would mean “turning our wheels” without research and evaluation to find out what they are doing.
“This has always been a vital component of our work, but the addition of Dr. Gundersen exponentially raises our status as a leading research organization dedicated to alleviating hunger,” he said.
Although new to BCHP full-time teachers and staff, Gundersen is no stranger to the work and mission of the Baylor unit.
“They have an annual conference called‘ Together at the Table ’that I came to, and I’ve met Jeremy and his team really well over the last decade,” he said.
Gundersen studied the causes and consequences of food insecurity and the evaluation of food aid programs with an emphasis on SNAP in the last 25 years, and the transition to Baylor and BCHP for him was a highly desired next step.
“It’s the leading organization in the country working to investigate domestic food insecurity.”
“It’s the country’s leading organization working on domestic food insecurity research,” he said, explaining that the BCHP office network across the country with intervention programs like meals for you, reaching out to SNAPs and summer food programs has created “really Neat Labs ”to develop best practices for addressing food insecurity.
Gundersen, a lifelong Catholic who completed his undergraduate education at the University of Notre Dame, said moving to Baylor also fits well with his personal faith that speaks to his life’s work.
“The reason why BCHP is doing this job – the reason why Baylor supports the BCHP so much – is at the core of our Christian faith that we feel called to help those in need, ”he said. “A lot of secular institutions are doing interesting work on this issue, but I really wanted to be in a place where faith comes first.”
He continued: “If you look at those who were on the front line of the fight against hunger in our country, they are our churches. These are our religious organizations, be it the Salvation Army, or Catholic charities, or the many Baptist churches across the country that directly help those who need to come to their churches to get help. ”
“If you look at those who have been at the forefront of the fight against hunger in our country, these are our churches.”
Gundersen said tackling hunger and food insecurity requires a three-pronged approach.
“The first is that we can never reduce the importance of charitable, direct actions that people have – our food banks across the country or other service organizations. They are agile and fast and can solve problems in a meaningful way, ”he said. “We really saw it at the beginning of COVID when we didn’t know what was going on, but you saw that food banks are really stepping up to help those who need it most.”
The second goal is to take advantage of things the government is doing well.
“In a country as rich as ours, we have the resources to address food insecurity,” he said. “I definitely don’t see the government as a solution to all our problems, but in some special cases the government can play a really critical role. One program that I really like is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, and it really has to be in every debate about addressing food insecurity in our country. In fact, BCHP is actually doing a really neat job in terms of reaching out to those who would benefit from SNAP. ”
And the third step is the private sector.
“We have this incredible supply chain ag in the United States based on the free market, ”he said. “This is not a government-run aggregate supply chain; these come from our farmers around the country, all over the world, who produce food all the way to our food stores, be it HEB, either Walmart, or Kroger. From that farm to the grocery stores and to the individuals it’s so successful. ”
Gundersen said the goal of his research through the BCHP is to determine which of these resources, programs, collaborations and partnerships work best in providing food assistance to people in need. And the efforts must be and were bipartisan, he added.
“SNAP has received support from both sides of the aisle, and one of the reasons it is so successful is that it has received this support,” he said. “And it’s great that in our mission at BCHP, we also come across the aisle to provide information that is relevant to both sides.”
Gundersen said it was important for pastors to continue to preach the gospel of compassion and care for others.
Looking at the current role religious community, Gundersen said it is important for pastors to continue to preach the gospel of compassion and care for others.
“If you preach all this, then it naturally follows why parishioners have to deal with hunger issues,” he said. “The other thing I always like to talk about is to encourage compassion for those who need help. We don’t know why they are fighting, and we just have to be sympathetic to them. ”
Gundersen noted that mental health issues are a leading predictor of food insecurity in the United States.
“I would also tell the pastors that direct service is really important,” he added. “Baptist churches have been feeding their country through their churches for hundreds of years, and moreover, many people in those churches also work in food stores taking care that people have food. Many Baptists and those in the benches work for wholesale distributors. Many parishioners in the benches are farmers. Let’s praise their work, let’s continue to support them in this really important work they do in terms of feeding the world. ”
While Gundersen was based in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, said 25% of his work in Baylor will be in the economics department at the business school and 75% at the BCHP.
“So I’m able to devote a lot more time to researching how to address food insecurity across Texas and across the country,” he said.
Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Gundersen has an affinity for Texas, who lived in Houston in the early 1990s while working at Casa Juan Diego, the Catholic Department of Refugee Refugees in Central America.
“I’ve always loved Texas and I really welcomed the opportunity to go back to Texas,” he said. “In a way, Wisconsin is similar to Texas because it really has a lot of state pride. No matter where you live, people are very proud of their state, and the same is true of Texas. ”
Jeff Hampton is a freelance writer based in Dallas.
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