San Francisco – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its newly expanded warehouse and welcome center. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much, Tanis, for your generous introduction. But more importantly for your very important statement of values about food and caring and generosity of spirit, and good ideas to get it done. I join you in extending honors granted to those you acknowledged, including everyone in this room. You’re here because you care. You’re here because you care. And Tanis and Jonathan have given us a path to make sure that we can demonstrate that care and that concern.
Well I guess I can speak for every person here when I say it’s a pleasure to be back here in the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. A beautiful, beautiful facility, and I’ll see more of what’s additional now.
And Tanis, thank you. Tanis talked about the first time in fifty years, a food conference at the White House. Tanis was our regional representative to that food conference. And she said she was very pleased with it. I’ll report that back to the President.
And the First Lady who took a big interest in all of that, Jill Biden. And so Tanis, thank you for your great leadership in so many ways. Again, internally – make things run – externally to take the message out there to the community, to a conference in the White House. And to you, Jonathan, thank you so much for your leadership as well. To you and your entire team. This is non-stop work that you do to defeat hunger, brightening the lives of so many and upholding the dignity and worth of every person.
Now why I take a special interest in this is because one of the reasons that I went from house wife to House Speaker, or kitchen to Congress, was one in five children living in poverty and going to sleep hungry at night. My husband and I have five children – now nine grandchildren, but then five children. And just the thought that children in America – the greatest country that ever existed in the history of the world – children were going to sleep – one in five children in our country – hungry at night. How could that be? How can that be when they’re a country of faith? A country of faith, and the Bible tells us, ‘When as I was hungry, you fed me.’
‘When I was hungry, you fed me.’ So again, when people – I always ask candidates when they want to run for office, ‘What is your why? why? Why did you decide to do this?’ Well, my ‘why’ is that one in five children go to sleep hungry, and it’s still the case. That was a long time ago but it’s still the case, and we keep trying to get ahead of it. And that’s why realizing those values – with the good ideas, the generosity of spirit and time and finances that many of you get.
I told Tanis once that, when they first started having community health centers around the country – community health centers, it’s not – it wasn’t here since the beginning of our country, just in recent history. The person – one of the two founders of it, they were getting federal money for community health centers, was using the money for food. And the federal government said, ‘We’re going to sue you because that’s supposed to be for prescription drugs.’ And basically, the doctor there said, ‘Food is medicine.’ If we want our children to thrive, if we want them to learn, as you said, all the things that they can do much better if they are nurtured and well fed. Food is medicine. So we were hoping the federal government wouldn’t sue, but they got the message. But it is medicine. It’s good for what ails you. And it’s so important.
We’ve seen such a horrible increase during COVID, but thank God the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank was there. And I had the privilege of being at some of the pop-ups and this or that to see how desperately people needed it and how, in some cases, they were semi-embarrassed, but they shouldn’t have been because we were just all honoring our responsibilities to each other, and they could pass it on another time.
The other thing is that the – when we had the issue – and that’s why I was glad to hear you talking about fresh fruit and vegetables. When we had the issue of lead in water in Michigan – remember the children were getting this terrible water, terrible water. We had the doctors come in to talk about how we could help these children, and the first thing they said is ‘fresh fruit and vegetables.’ They live in urban – these deserts where they don’t have fresh fruit and vegetables. We have to get them fresh fruit and vegetables. So that makes it – hopefully not having the same urgency and need as those kids had in Flint, Michigan – but recognizing how important that is to the good health and well being of our children.
So this is really important work. It’s as fundamental as it can be to feed the hungry, even – that’s your passage to heaven. ‘When I was hungry, you fed me.’ He also said, ‘When I was hungry, you didn’t feed me. You go over there, you go over there.’ People keep forgetting the second part.
‘When I was hungry, you didn’t feed me.’ So that was really a challenge to all of us to make sure that, if we wanted to truly be following the path of the Bible. So your work remains as urgent as ever. The pandemic shined a light, as I said, on the realities of hunger in America. But this crisis has deep roots that were there before COVID.
Driven by President Biden’s leadership, the House Democrats have taken bold leadership. We delivered $12 billion dollars in food assistance through our American Rescue Plan. That was the first bill that the President put forth, more since then. And he enacted the Keep Kids Fed Act to offer free school meals over the summer break, when kids weren’t in school. And why is it that kids have to qualify for food – for school meals in school? Shouldn’t that just be automatic? And there shouldn’t be ‘you pay, you don’t pay.’ What’s that? Because we always contended that the administrative cost of keeping track of who could – who should be paying for a meal or not, was not worth whatever the dynamic that it would create in the school. So we still, obviously, are always working to improve that.
In August, before you went, we had the privilege of joining for a roundtable conversation ahead of the White House Conference on Hunger. Our colleague, his name is Jim McGovern, he’s the Chairman of the Rules Committee, but he’s Chairman of the Hunger Caucus as well. Jim McGovern, and he was the one who was on the White House’s case. That is, he was on me to be on the White House’s case to have this Conference. But the President was well disposed to it. But the insights that Tanis brought, and from all of you, were vital to the historic meeting that the President had and will continue.
Well, Jim McGovern is Chair of the Caucus, the Hunger Caucus. His Co-Chair of him, Congresswoman Walorski, was killed in an automobile accident just weeks before the Conference. That was too bad, but it was bipartisanship, at least on that committee – task force, if not necessarily when we’re going in for the money. And that was, that was quite sad, because it was a common value that we did, that was in a bipartisan way on the task force. But Jim McGovern used to have hunger strikes, and I said, ‘Jim, they don’t care. They don’t care if you’re – hunger strike, more days and more days and more days.’ I said, ‘Do you think that they care that you’re starving? They don’t care. So stop this, stop this.’ Aand eventually he did, before he succumbed to it.
Fortunately, because of all of you and the awareness that you have risen, have risen up, and the fact that if people are starving and somebody’s having a hunger strike for them, then you know that their colleagues in Congress might be better disposed to address the urgency of it all.
So good you’re not sleeping here, because –
We go through that with our constituents as well, with the noise. But that’s nothing compared to the groaning that kids will feel in their stomachs if they do not have enough food to eat.
But hunger strikes have been a statement. When I first was Chairwoman of the California Democratic Party, this is a long time ago, like 40 years ago – yeah, it was that long ago – we would go to hunger strikes for our veterans, who were, who were striking on Agent Orange . They were Vietnam vets. This was like ’81, ’82, like that. They were having hunger strikes, and somebody like Dick Gregory came to see them and said, ‘I’ve done hunger strikes for civil rights. And this is what you have to do. You have to shower, you have to hydrate, because you could die before people will take notice.’
So in any event, it has been a tool over time. It hasn’t always produced the immediate result at hand. Like we just finished Agent Orange in our PACT bill that we did. But it is something that people understand. Hunger strike, hunger strike, that’s a choice. These kids don’t have that choice. As Tanis said, they don’t have that choice.
And we can never think that we have been successful as a nation as long as one in five of our children are going to sleep hungry at night. You are doing so much to reduce that number. Know Your Power in all of this. Know how grateful everyone is to you for making so much of this possible.
And let us once again thank Tanis and Jonathan for their leadership and all of you. I’m honored to be with you today. I look forward to seeing what’s new, what’s new here. Thank you all, for what you do For The Children.
Oh yeah, the Child Tax Credit that Tanis mentioned – and I’m glad they mentioned it at the Conference – the Child Tax Credit that we had in that first bill, the Rescue Package, took down childhood poverty in America by 50 percent. It put food on the table for many families. It is so very important.
Now, we have a little trouble getting it renewed. It passed, not one vote from the other side – not to talk politics, but civics. I mean, this is what happened – without one vote from the other side. So we have to be successful in the election so we can get more Senators who might join us in that. But 50 percent of the children in America who live in poverty were taken off the poverty rolls. And moms and dads, that enabled them to ensure that they could put food on the table.
You’re as strong as a Child Tax Credit. We need you, and we need it. We need it all, For The Children. Thank you so much.