SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady Foundation announced the launch of the Schenectady County Food Council on Aug. 10. The goal of the multi-organization, collaborative initiative is to bring together varied sectors, organizations and residents with different experiences to discuss how food insecurity is an issue in the county.
Kristi Milligan, director of grants and community programs for The Schenectady Foundation, described the process as “digging down and figuring out where the system broke down and how to fix it from the very core, instead of just providing emergency food services to people.”
“We want to work with people that live in the community, can advocate for themselves and have lived experiences,” said Adine Viscusi, board of directors for the Electric City Food Co-Op. “Those are the people that we want around the table. We want the Food Council to affect policy and inform those decision-makers.”
According to Feeding America, Schenectady County has a food insecurity rate of 10.3 percent, or 16,020 people. When looking specifically at children, that rate rises to 15.7 percent, which is 7.5 percent more than the national average.
The council’s plans to address this involve a systematic analysis of the issues, as well as finding food that is culturally appropriate and nutritionally dense while working to solve these problems that have deep ties to economics.
“We have the opportunity to move the needle, remove barriers and push this forward in a powerful way,” said Viscusi.
Participants and organizations involved in the Schenectady County Food Council include The Schenectady Foundation, Messiah Lutheran Church, Rotterdam Community Center, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, Schenectady City School District, Schenectady Community Ministries, Schenectady Urban Farms, Schenectady County Public Health, Schenectady Greenmarket, Schenectady Street Soldiers, The Food Pantries for the Capital District, Free Food Fridge Schenectady, Regional Food Bank, and more.
“We’re as representative, inclusive, and accessible as we can be,” said Milligan. “We’re very open to suggestions and new people joining. We’re all in this together. We want it to be as open as it can be, and people can be a part of it if they want to be. Every single person can help by sharing their stories, giving an hour of their time, or donating to a food pantry. There’s something that every single one of us can do.”
Schenectady County residents are encouraged to take part in the council, from joining mailing lists to participating in workgroups, and are invited to attend their upcoming events.
“We really do believe that it takes the entire community to make this a good system for the entire community,” said Milligan. “Every single person matters.”
One of the upcoming events that the public is invited to is a screening of the documentary “A Place at the Table” on Aug. 23 at 6 p.m. at the Schenectady County Library. The documentary screening is intended to outline how this is an issue in the community and then create actionable ways that people can work to create a food plan that works for everyone.
“We want everyone in Schenectady County to know that they matter and are invited to be a part of this,” said Milligan. “No matter who they are or what their background is, their voices are important to this process. The people closest to the problem should be closest to the solution.”
Viscusi highlighted that an important part of the solution is being actively responsible by going into communities and being accessible. By working with individuals who are food insecure in tandem with nonprofit organizations and different levels of government, the Schenectady Food Council looks to address this problem from a full perspective and pool their resources.
“I just think that it’s so powerful when people are invested in a movement and the community comes together to address their own needs,” continued Viscusi. “That’s empowering people and having them be part of the solution. It’s generationally impactful.”