My Team vs. Yours: Pundits, Polls, Rankings and Hunger

We have seen success in increasing summer meals served, breakfasts eaten and policies passed, because organizations and elected officials have been willing to work together.
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We've come to a season in our country where polling and voting bring an air of contention. Pundits are trading verbal jabs, factions are vying for supremacy, fans of opposite sides are engaging in public shouting matches and time-honored institutions are placing their hopes on a few tense hours during the fall. We are at the height of football season.

College football can really bring out the irrationality in people. (Of course this isn't true at Baylor; we have blessed assurance that our team deserves one of the top four playoff spots.) Opposing fans regularly hold completely incongruent views of the same call made by a referee. These same fans are rarely satisfied with their team's ranking and readily throw out opinions that may or may not be based on facts. Unfortunately, this divisive nature is not limited to the gridiron. This combative attitude pervades our culture and can be seen in various sectors throughout our communities. College football has become a microcosm of much of our society today. Whether because of political parties, social values, fundraising competition or allegiance to a team, lines have been drawn, and people are becoming less and less willing to cross them.

It would seem that this competitiveness would be fiercest in the football-minded, strong-willed state of Texas. I assumed that this would be the case when we formed the Texas Hunger Initiative five years ago, so I knew that our goals were ambitious. I knew that in Texas we had the resources for everyone to have three meals a day, seven days a week. Our hunger problem was an access issue not a resource issue. So, we determined to end hunger in Texas and create a model that other states could use to do the same. I cast a lofty vision for what our organization could do and our state could become--a vision of collaboration, more efficient systems and of better-informed policies--and I knew that, if we were going to accomplish this goal, individuals and organizations across the state would have to come together around this shared vision.

Ultimately, we found that the same fervor that makes Texans some of the craziest football fans, when focused on a unifying cause like hunger, can move the needle in unprecedented ways. The results of our efforts have been staggering. Since 2009, we've partnered with the Walmart Foundation and have seen six million more summer meals served, and 400,000 more students eat breakfast each day--which means 65 million more breakfasts were served last year compared to 2008--thanks to collaboration with Dairy MAX and Share Our Strength. In Texas, more than 60 coalitions are now functioning in the anti-hunger and anti-poverty space. We have strengthened public and private partnerships by creating an infrastructure of accountability--not just accountability to the taxpayer but accountability to those in poverty.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission's Community Partner Program is a perfect example of that type of partnership. Our private, university-based organization has partnered with this public, state agency to streamline the application for benefits and provide greater access to it. Today we have more than 850 points of access--organizations such as congregations, food pantries and schools--where individuals can apply for and manage benefits such as SNAP, WIC, Medicaid and CHIP. Public and private partnerships such as these are leading to more efficient, less expensive structures and are creating greater access to programs that low-income families need.

I'm still taken aback a little when I look at all that has been accomplished. I'm impressed by what we've done--not just the Texas Hunger Initiative but many people, organizations, agencies and corporations across the state and the nation. I'm proud of our collective impact, increasing food security in Texas, and I'm proud of what we're doing to raise awareness around hunger and poverty in our state and our nation.

We have seen success in increasing summer meals served, breakfasts eaten and policies passed, because organizations and elected officials have been willing to work together. In Texas, we have seen that collaboration--coming together--can work. Across the state, competing organizations, differing denominations and opposite political parties have put their differences aside in an effort to create an environment in which all Texans can succeed. We haven't gotten there yet, but I am proud of the steps we have taken. Despite some of the cooperation we've seen in Texas, there are still too many places across our country where it's not happening.

In the daily lives of the American people, the distance between the have and have-nots is growing. A recent S & P report shows that the top one percent of our nation is making an estimated 1.2 million dollars a year. In contrast, the bottom 20 percent of Texans makes 11,000 dollars a year. On top of this, it is no secret that much of our current political dialogue centers on discord and the inability of different sides to come together, yet we know that coming together is the only way to answer the question of hunger and solve the problem of poverty.

Competition and quarreling may be okay for football, but when it moves into our national politics and the work of our local nonprofits it is unacceptable. When our lack of compromise begins to directly affect our neighbors, it is inexcusable. It's time that we stop letting our differences keep us from working together to better our communities and from passing policies to improve the lives of Americans. Working together--collaborating and compromising--is the only way that we are going to see meaningful progress in our efforts to lower poverty in our country. The time is ripe for change. It is time for us to come together, as a movement, and work hand-in-hand toward a unified solution. Only then can we see the numbers, like the ones rolling in for the Texas Hunger Initiative and its partners, continue to move in the right direction. Collectively, as one united team, we can beat hunger and move toward beating poverty. (But, still...sic 'em Bears!)