Dispelling Food Insecurity Myths with MPP Alum Jackie Riberdy

Recently we caught up with UConn School of Public Policy (SPP) Master of Public Policy (MPP) alum Jackie Riberdy! Below she dispels myths about food insecurity in her own words. We also catch up about her work at Connecticut Foodshare, where she addresses food insecurity year-round. 

Dispelling Food Insecurity with Jackie Riberdy

This is the time of year when food insecurity is most salient in the minds of Americans, yet some people may not know the truth about food insecurity in this country. So this Thanksgiving let us dispel some myths about food insecurity with the help of Feeding America and Second Harvest!

Myth 1: America doesn’t have a hunger crisis. That only happens in other parts of the world.  

Truth: In the United States, there are 34 million people who are food insecure (for reference, Canada’s population is about 38 million). Rising food, housing and heating costs, in addition to unexpected expenses can make it impossible for many households to make ends meet.  

Myth 2: It is most likely that people facing hunger are unhoused or unemployed.  

Truth: A majority of the people served by the Feeding America Network, of which Connecticut Foodshare is a part of, are housed and have at least one employed adult. Insufficient wages, underemployment and rising costs of living keep those with housing and jobs struggling. The Federal Reserve Board reports that 40% of Americans could not cover a $400 emergency cost without compromising on medical or food costs. Food insecurity is a reality for our neighbors in every community.  

Myth 3: Hunger mostly exists in cities.  

Truth: Hunger is found in cities, but it is also common in rural areas. Lack of access to transportation, employment and education contributes to economic instability. According to Feeding America, of the counties with the highest hunger rates, 79% of those are in rural areas. Even the farmers that grow America’s crops in these regions face food insecurity.  

Myth 4: You can’t be food insecure if you are overweight. 

Truth: Some people may think that being overweight means that someone eats too much, however being food insecure and being overweight are linked. Many people who are food insecure may have multiple jobs, lack of access to transportation, and lack of access to nutritious foods like fresh produce. Cheap fast-food or highly processed foods may be the best way to make money last the month. These foods are higher in sugars, fat and calories leading to higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Food insecurity has a negative impact on overall health.  

Myth 5: People who are food insecure look a certain way.  

Truth: You cannot tell if someone is food insecure based on how they appear. Someone may drive a nice car or wear nice clothing, but this may have been purchased when they were financially secure. Their circumstances may have changed for a variety of reasons, possibly a job loss or life-altering event.  

Myth 6: The solutions to food waste and hunger are not the same because they are separate issues. 

Truth: These issues are interconnected. Despite the 34 million people in the United States facing hunger, 72 billion pounds of good food is wasted in U.S. each year. The feeding America network partners with farmers and food retailers to rescue and distribute more than 3 billion pounds of food each year.  

If you want to fight food insecurity in Connecticut, please consider volunteering at Connecticut Foodshare! You can also donate money to Connecticut Foodshare, or donate food to your local food pantry. Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo of Jackie Riberdy
Jackie Riberdy, MPP ’22

Jackie’s IMPACT at Connecticut Foodshare

After completing her MPP Jackie became a Community Coalition Builder at Connecticut Foodshare. During her final year of the MPP, she began pursuing a certificate in Leadership and Management. One course she took towards the certificate was “Nonprofit Advocacy, Government Relations, and Law” with SPP Adjunct Professor and alum Jason Jakubowski. He currently serves as President and CEO of Connecticut Foodshare. Jackie says,

I really enjoyed the class projects, Jason’s teaching style and how I could draw on my IPP experience to connect deeper with the material. Coincidentally, during the course I was building skills that I would eventually utilize in my role at Connecticut Foodshare.

At the end of the spring semester Jason reached out about her post-graduation plans, and shared a job opening for a Community Coalition Builder. Jackie adds,

It was an exciting opportunity because I was looking for a community facing role and I felt like my skill set fit the job well. Most of all, I appreciated that Connecticut Foodshare not only fulfills the primary role of a food bank by providing food to the assistance network, but also works to address the root causes of food insecurity. 

Since July, Jackie has worked to develop and strengthen connections with stakeholders in order to address food insecurity in communities across Connecticut. This includes attending anti-hunger coalition meetings to learn about needs and new resources, share updates on our programs, create connections and provide information on wrap-around resources that address issues intersecting with food insecurity. She explains,

I utilize relationship building skills from SPP with external stakeholders. This skill is an important part of my role as we hope our participation in the community space is welcome and trusted.

In order to keep community stakeholders informed about the latest benefits, she creates, edits and publishes a community resource newsletter. A skill she brought to SPP as a member of our social media team! She draws upon SPP project management skills when evaluating plans for anti-hunger coalitions. Jackie also uses skills from Jason’s class, including  considering the priorities and constraints of different entities when engaging with them.

Recently Jackie collaborated with SPP Director of Engagement Ryan Baldassario for United Way’s “Emerging Leaders Society” (ELS) program. She notes, “one thing I heard a lot in my time in the program was how vast the network is, but I didn’t expect to collaborate with someone from the program so soon!” Ryan serves as a Case Development Lead for ELS.

ELS consists of emerging corporate leaders who are challenged with finding a solution to a community problem in a shark-tank style competition. This year the competition was centered on increased participation at Hartford Farmers Markets. For a second year, Connecticut Foodshare is serving as a community partner for the program, and providing background information and expertise to help teams create their solutions. Serving as the point of contact for Connecticut Foodshare, Jackie gathers information from different departments. With Ryan and the team, she has helped to build the case that the competitors are using. 

Earlier this semester Ryan moderated a panel during the ELS’s orientation, and asked Jackie to participate and answer questions on food insecurity, farmers markets and SNAP. She exclaims, “I have enjoyed providing feedback to groups and learning about their creative solutions!” The winner of the competition will be announced December 6th. We look forward to seeing the results and solutions of the program!