Gabel sponsors resolution to unite local groups in fight against hunger, poverty

Paige Leskin, Assistant City Editor

State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) has sponsored a resolution in the Illinois House of Representatives aiming to unite the visions of various state groups toward developing an approach that would better fight poverty and hunger in the state.

The resolution, first introduced by Gabel on May 8, asks Gov. Pat Quinn (D) to create a overarching program to spur collaboration between state entities, which could “embolden and empower communities to advance low-cost and high return strategies to help end hunger and poverty,” the bill says. It was assigned Monday to the House’s Human Services Committee.

The six Illinois groups mentioned in the bill each focus on different initiatives, including food, community service, employment and economic development. However, the goals of these organizations are fundamentally connected, Gabel said.

“I recognized there were a number of committees that had overlapping missions,” she told The Daily. “I think the governor’s office is the perfect place to bring together all those interests. An organized effort will provide the leadership to local (groups).”

The bill comes in light of numbers indicating more than 1.8 million Illinois residents in 2012 – 14.2 percent of the state population – were labeled “food insecure,” according to a 2014 study from Feeding Illinois, an association of eight Illinois food banks. Gabel also cited in her resolution the fact that Illinois schools provide subsidized meals to one in every five students who come from impoverished families.

Evanston resident Bob Heuer said the resolution is essential for the state because it draws on the government’s “convening power,” bringing diverse constituencies together in a coordinated approach to solve problems.

Heuer is currently a director of the Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council, an organization formed in 2009 under the Illinois Department of Agriculture to connect state entities with local agencies. The council is one of the groups included in Gabel’s resolution.

“The Council was formed to provide a state-level solution to a grassroots problem,” he said in an email to The Daily. “They saw the need for a community-led ‘team member.’”

Heuer said the passage of the bill could have a great beneficial impact on Evanston.

“Our legislative charge involves facilitating the alignment of state resources to promote local food demand, access, production and infrastructure,” he said in the email. “Locally (the resolution) can be a unifying force — aligning community efforts to support local food demand, access, production and infrastructure.”

Heuer said he attended a dinner May 12 with other Evanston community leaders, including District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and retiring McGaw YMCA president and CEO Bill Geiger. He said attendees talked about local initiatives that would benefit in the future from discussion between community entities. The long-term education initiative Cradle to Career would receive support from collaboration with food nutrition and agricultural plans, Heuer said.

In order for better food policies to be implemented, Heuer said the majority of the grunt work will have to come from local groups.

“The direction, energy and political will have to come from the grassroots,” he said. “As the Evanstons of Illinois create their own food nutrition and agriculture plans, the Council can support these comprehensive grassroots models by networking … in cooperation with the overlapping missions of these other state entities.”

Because the House soon takes a break for the summer, Heuer said it is important Gabel’s bill at least be brought to the table and given consideration.

“The timing of its introduction so late in the legislative session means that lawmakers are very focused on the big pieces of legislation that need to be approved,” he said. “It’s gotten notice from the governor’s office, which can provide the senior-level attention needed to help foster coordination.”

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