It’s not every day congressmen and lobbyists rally together for a common cause.
But the Hoops for Youth Foundation partnered last month with the American League of Lobbyists to launch its first Thanksgiving food drive, which concludes Wednesday with a public event from 9 a.m. to noon on Capitol Hill.
Members of Congress, aides and community residents are invited to the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday to donate nonperishable goods to the Capital Area Food Bank, a local nonprofit organization that distributes 37.5 million meals annually to District residents.
Paul A. Miller of Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies, the chairman of the Hoops for Youth Foundation and an architect of the food drive, sees it as an opportunity to get more people in the influence industry on board with philanthropy.
“[It’s] one of the things lobbying firms are bad at and it’s not something we like to promote,” Miller said.
For its part, the food bank is appreciative of the helping hands.
“Here in the Washington metro area — Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, D.C. and northern [Virginia] — our congressional members, both senators and representatives, are very supportive of hunger relief and the work of the Capital Area Food Bank,” Brian Banks, director of public policy at Capital Area Food Bank, said in an email to CQ Roll Call. “A number of them have visited and volunteered at our food distribution centers in [northeast] D.C. and northern [Virginia] and we appreciate their support to help us reach 500,000 of our neighbors who are at risk of hunger in the region.”
All donations will help the food bank in its mission to feed the District of Columbia’s 700,000 underfed.
Since 2005, Washington’s food hardship rates have increased, in part because of unemployment and a lack of adequate grocery stories in select wards of the city.
The capital ranked second in the nation for the highest child food insecurity rate. About 30 percent of children in D.C. are in food-insecure households, according to the group Feeding America’s most recent Map the Meal Gap project.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the House Hunger Caucus chairman, is scheduled to address the attendees at 10 a.m. and will be joined by Democratic Reps. André Carson of Indiana, Donna Edwards of Maryland and Alcee L. Hastings of Florida.
“This is a great opportunity for the Hill community to come together and make the holiday season a bit brighter for needy families. The Capital Area Food Bank does tremendous work, and they deserve our help,” McGovern said in an email.
The road to the food drive started with Hoops for Youth co-founders Miller and former Rep. Jack Quinn, R-N.Y., and their desire to provide for at-risk youths.
“Jack and I do a lot of volunteer work. This was kind of a way for us to give back to them. We started off doing the basketball game; raised $1.5 million. We decided we need to do a little bit more and teamed up with the [Hunger Caucus],” Miller said.
District associations and law firms have been critical to the success the food drive has already seen. The 15 companies that joined the campaign three weeks ago have been accepting goods since the last week of October.
“I know a lot of places do food drives but we really want the D.C. community to know the lobbying community and association world are also doing their part to make sure kids and families have things this time of year,” Miller added.
On Tuesday, trucks will pick up each company’s donations and bring them to the event, where the thousands of items will be on display on Wednesday.
Miller has high expectations for the event’s first year. “We really hope we can do 3,000 pounds and get to doubling it in the next couple of years,” he said.
Companies such as Alliant Techsystems Inc. in Arlington, Va., have already seen substantial giving from employees.
“In the past — every year — we have a United Way campaign. It’s a company-wide effort and every individual is allowed to select where their contribution will go,” said Brian Wagner, director of congressional relations at ATK. The food bank has always been heavily supported in that capacity, but this year’s hands-on campaign to support the local organization has given employees new motivation, according to Wagner.
As of this week, they have brought in about 2,500 pounds of donations.
The event, designed to supply food around the Thanksgiving season, is also a means of enabling large Washington private sector types to better support the needs of community members — even after the giving season ends, Miller said.
“It goes beyond Thanksgiving, making sure their shelves aren’t empty, making sure these kids have the nutrition they need,” Miller said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.