Looking back at USDA’s efforts to help rural America thrive, I am truly proud of the impact our diverse partners, both from faith and secular communities, have had within their communities. On behalf of the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I would like to say thank you to our partners these past eight years as well as reflect on a few notable highlights of the work we have achieved together.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans every day, whether they realize it or not. While our programs to reduce food insecurity are well known, our nation’s most vulnerable citizens can still be hard to reach. Faith-based and community partners have been especially helpful in this area, particularly when it comes to feeding children in summer months, when school is out of session. In collaboration with many partners, including Catholic Charities USA, the Church of God in Christ, Islamic Relief USA, the National Baptist Convention and the Salvation Army, USDA increased the number of summer meals served to kids by 16% between 2009 and 2015, a total of more than 1.2 billion summer meals served when school is out and food is scarce.
In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move! Faith and Communities (LMFC) to build the capacity of faith and community-based health leaders to educate their community members and promote healthier choices, increased physical activity, and access to healthy and affordable food. In 2011, Let’s Move! Faith and Communities partners hosted 1,100 new summer meal sites, where low-income kids were served healthy free meals once school let out. More than 4,500 faith and community leaders and organizations participated in the initiative which created a bridge to numerous other communities as these leaders represent a broad networks of local, regional and national organizations.
Faith-based and community partners have also helped USDA as we look to prepare a diverse next generation of agricultural leaders. The average American farmer is now approaching retirement age, and our food supply is becoming increasingly connected globally.
In our backyard, we’ve partnered with multiple schools to introduce exciting and rewarding opportunities in agriculture. At an agricultural science and business boot camp hosted at Frederick Douglass High School of Baltimore in 2016, students learned from a panel of agricultural scientists about related occupations and their career paths. In addition, through school partnerships, students are able to tour USDA headquarters, volunteer in the People’s Garden and interact with vendors in our Farmer’s Market as well as participate in cooking demonstrations and engage with USDA senior leadership on topics including food waste, entrepreneurship, college and internship opportunities.
Across the United States and Puerto Rico, USDA has hosted over 20 on-site application acceptance events, in partnership with the Office of Personnel Management. These events, held in conjunction with 1862, 1890, and 1994 land grant institutions, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other minority serving institutions, provided an opportunity for USDA hiring managers to collect applications for Pathway Intern and Recent Graduate positions on location and significantly contributed to the department’s legacy of cultural transformation. In 2015 alone, over 360 positions were filled or offers made through this method.
To further develop the next generation of agricultural leaders internationally, USDA has joined other governmental offices, American NGOs and private companies to provide leadership development, professional training, cultural exchange and networking opportunities to Mandela Washington Fellows of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). The USDA Center coordinated the placements of three Fellows from Senegal, Nigeria, and Uganda, a first for the Department.
Our partners have also acknowledged the rich religious diversity of the United States by supporting USDA as it recognizes various holidays related to food and agriculture found in multiple faiths. During each year of the Obama Administration, the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has recognized the essential and important role of the religious community in the United States by hosting celebrations for employees and their families that are often led by members of the community including annual iftars, prayer breakfasts, Seders and festivals such as Diwali and Sukkot.
This reflection highlights just a handful of the work we’ve done with partners across the United States these past years. As Director of this Center, it has been an honor to work with such inspiring individuals and organizations under the leadership of Secretary Vilsack and President Obama. We don’t work alone, and again, I want to thank all of our partners for all of their hard work over the past eight years to provide a better future for the American public.