By: Sophie Hurewitz, Child Policy Research Certificate student '22
Billy Shore, founder and executive chair of Share Our Strength, was the featured speaker at the October 27, 2021 installment of the Foundation Impact Research Group seminar series, co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society, the Center for Child and Family Policy, and the Duke World Food Policy Center. Shore and his sister founded Share Our Strength, a leading anti-poverty organization, in 1984 as a small entrepreneurial enterprise.
“We were really focused on creating what we called then—and what we still call now— ‘community wealth.’” This kind of wealth, Shore stated, “is a different kind of wealth that goes directly into the communities that we serve.” In 2010, the organization pledged to end childhood hunger in the United States. Under Shore’s leadership, Share Our Strength has raised more than $1.25 billion to fight childhood hunger and poverty in the United States. The key principle of the organization: partnership.
Shore began his talk by highlighting a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic—that it has been “unbelievably rich in lessons.” “We’ve learned a lot about how we can extend our impact,” he explained. “We are in a stronger position than we have ever been in before to actually end childhood hunger.” Since the start of the pandemic, the organization has added approximately 3.2 million children to the federally sponsored school breakfast program and helped families enroll in programs like SNAP and WIC.
How was Share Our Strength able to have such an impact during such a complicated, unfamiliar global event? Shore described how COVID-19 drew renewed attention to childhood hunger, an extraordinary level of generosity from community members and community institutions, and a prioritization of policy solutions and regulatory flexibility at a federal level. The combination of these three factors, Shore explained, ushered “the largest infusion of private capital into the school feeding system in history.” “We were prepared to do this not because of things we did during the pandemic,” he added, “but the things we did in the five or ten years before the pandemic.”
The pandemic sparked a “default to action” philosophy, Shore explained, emphasizing how Share Our Strength had to respond quickly to the desperate need that suddenly arose as the pandemic led to the virtual freezing of the U.S. economy. Such immediate action involved fostering partnerships with organizations like Save the Children and Urban School Food Alliance and corporations like Fanatics, partnerships that “normally would have taken months to hammer out.” Such partnerships required flexibility and trust, but Shore described how “the speed of trust gets accelerated during a crisis.” Shore cites Congress as an example: laws and regulations regarding reimbursement for school-sponsored food assistance were all shifted to reflect pandemic realities—students could be served outside of the school building, children were allowed to receive more than one meal per food distribution, and parents were allowed to receive some nutritional support as well.
Shore described the power of public policy in a dual public health and economic crisis: “Policy is a force multiplier,” Shore stated, explaining how the organization “had to engage in a really meaningful way in public policy.” Share Our Strength has opportunities that many government agencies do not: the ability to take risks, foster innovation, and pursue close relationships with the communities that they serve. “Once we create something that we know works, it becomes imperative that public policy help[s] us scale it,” he emphasized. “The role of community organizations, whether they’re local, state, [or] national… in connecting to those policy issues, helping policymakers get those policies right, and being the boots on the ground and actually connect[ing] people to them, is absolutely vital.”
Shore also recalled how the pandemic demonstrated that the organization’s core values “need to remain healthy, no matter how devastating the pandemic is.” Share Our Strength’s core values to act boldly, share strength, embrace diversity, and have fun served as constant touchpoints amid the disruption of the pandemic. Lastly, Shore reflected on how the pandemic has encouraged an understanding of the “interconnectedness between so many of these issues… and with all of us.” The pandemic helped many realize how “hunger is a symptom of a deeper problem of poverty, inequity, [and] structural racism.” Shore highlighted how, through the lens of the pandemic, these other issues became even more pressing to Share Our Strength and the broader American public.
Such a focus on the interconnected nature of these issues is what allows non-profit organizations, government agencies, and corporations alike to begin to address the root causes instead of the symptoms. “If organizations are willing to embrace this, I think we can get to a much more powerful place of impact,” urged Shore, “...there’s not another voice for these kids.”