Food is a very personal thing – cultural background, life experiences and dietary needs all play into our food preferences. As the lead hunger-relief agency across 11 counties of southwestern Pennsylvania, we recognize this and in January of 2021 decided that the best way for us to ensure all voices have an equal seating at the table was to add an Equity, People and Culture department to the Food Bank.
The overall goal of this department is to lead and align staff to the Food Bank’s mission to feed people in need and mobilize our community to eliminate hunger. Eliminating hunger is a community initiative – we cannot do it alone. Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (or EDI for short) initiatives promise to represent and support the communities where we live and serve.
The Food Bank has three EDI strategic pillars – Workforce, Workplace and Community. All of our EDI initiatives will focus around these three.
Workforce focuses on attracting, developing and advancing our employees. It is important we create an environment where a diverse workforce is welcomed and able to thrive. This causes innovation, diversity of thought and a deeper connection and understanding of the needs of our community; especially those within historically marginalized communities.
Workplace focuses on enhancing our culture through EDI cultural learning, knowledge sharing and engagement. We’re working to create learning opportunities to educate staff and engage in internal conversations focused on cultural knowledge sharing. Staff can share their experiences and perspectives from their unique cultural background. The learning and appreciation of one another’s cultural backgrounds gives staff an opportunity to better understand the unique experiences of colleagues while realizing their own identity in ways that they move through the world.
Community focuses on serving, partnering with, and supporting individuals, network partners and suppliers in our service area. This focus will look holistically at the systems that affect a person’s or family’s ability to survive and thrive. We will keep the people we serve at the center of everything we do and give increased attention to communities that have historically been left behind and have high rates of hunger and malnutrition.
To begin the journey towards the Food Bank’s EDI initiatives a common understanding of the opportunities a foundational focus on Diversity, Inclusion, and most importantly Equity provides to an organization is important. Internally our staff will create learning opportunities to develop the cultural competence needed to effectively interact with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds and build awareness of one’s own cultural worldview, attitudes towards cultural differences, knowledge of different cultural practices and develop cross-cultural skills.
These cultural competency skills will translate externally, putting an equity lens to racial and social justice–understanding the issues and challenges faced with food security. This connection to the community will allow us to enhance our services and be better advocate partners across all the communities we serve. The ability for staff to establish ways to build relationships with communities from different cultural groups, in addition to providing charitable services to meet their needs, is key to finding the voice to advocate and speak up for social inequalities. This learning journey is also important for staff to know when to step aside and amplify the voices of those with lived experiences of food insecurity.
Through these EDI strategic pillars, our cultural competence journey, and our partnerships with the community, we will:
· Keep the needs of the people we serve at the center of everything we do
· Expand inclusivity
· Use an equity-centered approached to make it easier for communities to receive support
· Increasing support for and accountability of community partners
· Create a way for the community to participate in our program designs, implementation and evaluation