Jess Thacker – Communities Coordinator
For the last three years I served as the Director of Children & Youth Programming at First United Methodist Church-Omaha. This congregation places a heavy emphasis on social justice and the young people with whom I worked were particularly passionate about caring for others. I was continually inspired by the tough questions they asked and their hope for the future. Through our shared ministry, I became connected with several great organizations in the community working to address poverty and food insecurity in Omaha.
Several times we sorted donations at food banks and pantries. We worked in community gardens; planting, tending, and harvesting crops that would feed local families. They were astonished by the amount of money spent on one Super Bowl commercial ($4 million) and how that money could be spent to help people, so we collected cans of hearty soup for a “Souper” Bowl food drive. We prepared and served meals at the homeless shelter, and we raised money and walked in the Omaha CROP Hunger Walk.
Charity is a wonderful practice of love and compassion for others, but it doesn’t really fix anything. Collecting food and serving meals does nothing to affect the systemic causes of hunger in our country. Now, emergency assistance programs are imperative as long as there are hungry children and adults, but what drew me to Hunger Free Heartland is that the focus is on ending childhood hunger and food insecurity – not simply “treating.”
My personal experience growing up in Omaha was one where I was never hungry. I did not have to worry if my basic needs would be met, and therefore I was able to spend time and energy on schoolwork and extracurricular activities.
This is not the reality for one out of five children in Nebraska.
There are challenges people face to which I remain completely oblivious because of my privileged upbringing. It is a practice in empathy when one seeks to understand the world through another person’s experience. I want to meet people living in Nebraska and listen to their stories. I want to celebrate their strengths and try to understand their challenges.
I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of the Hunger Free Heartland team. I look forward to working for lasting change so all of Nebraska’s children can be confident they will have enough to eat today, tomorrow, and everyday.