It's working for Leah Craft, Executive Director of Feed the Fridge
Food insecurity is one of those things that makes me want to bang my head against the wall in confusion and frustration – how does this still exist in the land of plenty?
Take the time to enjoy stillness. Especially as of late, I feel like each day just bleeds into the next and I barely remember what life was like without the constant pitter patter of little feet on my floor. But I recognize that with the whirlwind of life, I do need stillness, and I didn’t appreciate it when I had it before my kiddos came into this world. Everyone once in a while, I’ll find myself with five minutes of quiet, and it makes me wish I had appreciated that more.
Food insecurity is one of those things that makes me want to bang my head against the wall in confusion and frustration – how does this still exist in the land of plenty? There are systems at the federal, state and local levels, but, generally speaking, they aren’t complimentary, they are needlessly complex, and they aren’t dignified for the recipients of these services. And after all the effort that is put into addressing food insecurity, it has gotten worse and not better. Something clearly isn’t working.
Feed the Fridge is different than other providers – we are simple, and we are inclusive of everyone who needs meal security. The meals we provide are delicious, restaurant-prepared creations, not nutritionally lacking canned foods, or highly processed bags of carbohydrates. We also invest in local economies through our restaurant partnerships, which help to keep workers of all skill levels employed. And, by definition, we are solving hunger. We have a strict “no questions asked” policy – anyone can come and take a meal. By doing this, we believe that we are eliminating social stigma and judgement, which have been proven barriers to food access, especially for high school and college-age students as well as young families.
Why do I do this work? It comes down to empathy. I feel blessed that my family never has to go without and I can’t imagine being in a situation where I can’t feed my children what they want and need to flourish. I want all families – whether rich or poor – to be able to feed their families nutrient rich, filling, wholesome, dignified food.
No. It’s not. Growing up, I envied my classmates who knew exactly what they wanted to do and be when they “grew up.” I never had that experience – though I was ambitious, I didn’t feel that kind of professional draw. I knew that I had certain “soft skills”, but I wasn’t sure how those skills would translate into a career. This was the cause of much angst growing up, but it all worked out in the end. And I feel very fortunate because I love everything about what I do – it never feels onerous, quite the opposite actually.
No, it’s not an easy task. And I’m not sure that an MPH necessarily makes me qualified to fix it. It does give me some insight into why some programs don’t work, and some of the challenges with accessibility that go beyond geographical and financial challenges. Knowing these details, in particular, are helpful in how we model Feed the Fridge – where we place refrigerators, the kinds of culturally appropriate meals we place in our fridges, understanding the demographic each fridge is serving, etc..
Solving food insecurity, even in just one city at a time, is going to take a massive amount of work and coordination amongst different food security providers, foundations, corporations, government, and even restaurants and other food providers. It’s not a one-size fits all kind of problem. I could go on about this topic ad nauseam, but what is most important to share is that communication between entities is key, and we need more of it so we can help Greater Washington’s residents in the ways that they need help, not just how we, the providers, want to help. We must make sure that we are creating systems that are recipient-centric.
Thank you for asking this. I, too, think that our approach is kind.
Our food is all prepared fresh daily by local restaurants. The meals are monitored and tracked to ensure that contents meet our nutritional criteria and are attractive. The meals that are in our fridges are the same meals that you will find on the menus of the restaurants that created them.
Dignified food isn’t only about the types of meals that we provide, it’s also about how the food is accessed. Accessibility is key. I have heard over and over again that what recipients love about us is that they “don’t have to prove to us that they are hungry.” In other words, we don’t require any lists or signs ups of those who need us. No one has to ask permission to take food – they can take what they need. Before we install our fridges, we do site visits to ensure that the fridges are easily accessed either inside or outside of the building where they are placed, and that no one has to ask permission to take food.
To the extent that I do actually “manage”, it’s because I have a wonderful, supportive husband who helps me with everything pertaining to our girls and our home. I also work a lot of evenings when I’m on deadlines, which isn’t ideal, but necessary.
I make sure that I exercise every day. YouTube workout influencers have become key to my wellness – Sydney Cummings and Caroline Girvan are my favorites! They workout in real time with you, so all I have to do it grab my jump rope, adjustable weights, and mat and turn on YouTube. They keep me well and sane. In terms of rested, I wear an eye mask at night. As soon as it goes on, I pass out – it’s that easy.
My biggest COVID learning is the importance of self-care. I had a new baby at the beginning of COVID and I was terrified, so little was known about the infectious nature of this disease, and I had a newborn to protect. I didn’t leave my house for months, and it wore on me. I now know, as I mentioned in a previous question, how important it is to take care of yourself, both mentally and physically. If you aren’t well, especially as the mother of your family, then you and your household suffer. I found that taking even 30 minutes for myself – to sit outside, go for a walk, listing to my favorite music – is often all I need to refresh. It sounds so silly, but it is critically important to take these timeouts for yourself.
My biggest challenge was accepting the status of my body. I am someone who has always been physically fit and muscular. I had two c-sections and nursed my first daughter for two years and will do the same with my second. These things have wreaked havoc on my body. It sometimes impacts my self-esteem. And as the executive director of an organization, where I have to ask people to invest in our organization, I want to feel confident in myself, which is sometimes challenging when I focus on my belly that wasn’t there five years ago, or my ill-fitting bras. But, I do the best I can with what I have, and try to find clothes that flatter my new mommy figure.
Invest in a night nanny. Sleep is critically important when you’re a new mom. It keeps you sane, happy, and gives you the strength to cope with dramatic changes and challenges. A night nanny will not only help you and your husband get badly needed rest, but they will also train your child to be a good sleeper from a young age, and this will benefit you and your child for years to come.
My mother. My mom, who had four daughters of her own, has spent a lot of time with me during the months that followed both of my births. My mom is supportive, understanding, encouraging and nurturing. She encourages me to forgive myself for what I perceive as shortcomings and all of the challenges that come with being a new mother and trying to resume normal activities – like work. My mom taught me that I don’t have to be perfect, and that I need to be kind and patient with myself as I adjust to the new normal. She has been and continues to be a tremendous support for me.
I have had so many mentors, or teachers in my life. I try to learn something from most everyone I meet. I believe that everyone has lived a different life experience and everyone brings with them new perspectives and approaches to common challenges or situations in life.
As a working parent, I never expected time management would be so hard and getting up early would be so much easier.