In honor of Women’s History Month, BHP will be highlighting females working to eradicate hunger all throughout March. First up is Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, the Chief Executive Officer of Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief fund and second largest US charity.
An analysis from Feeding America has estimated that food insecurity will impact 52 million people due to COVID-19, which is an increase of 17 million people from pre-pandemic times. Between March and June, it is estimated that four in 10 visitors to food banks are in need due to COVID-19-related reasons, such as school shutdowns or job loss. While demand for food shot up like never before, donations dwindled and delivery channels quickly closed. Nevertheless, Babineaux-Fontenot was certain the organization would find a way to feed the most vulnerable. “In my mind — and though it might sound cliche, it’s true — it was a question of, How will we get through this? Not whether we will get through this,” she told CNBC.
The mental fortitude can be largely attributed to Babineaux-Fontenot unconventional up-bringing in central Louisiana: She is one of 107 siblings. Her parents had biological children of their own as well as adopted and raised foster kids; Babineaux-Fontenot will never divulge whether she was biological or adopted because to her they are all the same. Babineaux-Fontenot was acutely aware of the devastating effects of hunger and poverty from an early age as many of her siblings had suffered from such inequities before joining the family.“The fact that I have so many brothers and sisters who suffered from the ravages of food insecurity so early in their lives, putting them in a position which they were never able to fully overcome. When I was inclined to give up, all I had to do was think about one of my siblings who had been dealt just a completely different set of cards, to remind me of the remarkable privileges that I had now,” she told the New York Times.
Prior to joining Feeding America, Babineaux-Fontenot spent 13 years as part of Walmart’s leadership team. However, upon being diagnosed with Cancer in 2015, Babineaux-Fontenot asked herself: “What if the last thing that you ever get to do professionally is the last thing that you might possibly do at Walmart? Would that be OK?” The answer was no. She re-dedicated herself to the fight against food insecurity.
Since becoming CEO of Feeding America in 2018, Babineaux-Fontenot has worked tirelessly to meet the needs of those suffering from food insecurity; her work became even more critical with the economic downturn of 2020. Babineaux-Fontenot has built strong relationships with the USDA to ease certain regulations that specifically hurt food insecure families, created a COVID-19 fund that will be invested in communities most devastated, provided over 6 billion meals to those in need and facilitated a $100 million investment from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Yet Babineaux-Fontenot still has much work to do. “I can’t think of anything that matters, that we want for our country, that would not be made better if we were to get really serious about addressing food insecurity in this country. When people have consistent, predictable access to a nutritious mix of food, there’s so many positive things that flow from that one thing. And there’s so many negative things that flow from not having it,” she told the New York Times.
Jessica Kaplan, Bucknell University Intern, Class of 2021