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Summit focuses on ways to end hunger, help those who lack regular nourishment.

By Arielle Waldman

TAMPA ó For six years, the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger (TBNEH) has hosted a conference to raise awareness and discuss solutions.

The event, which takes place on Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 6-7), will kick off with a meal packing event, in the courtyard of Amalie Arena.

"We have about 200 volunteers coming out and weíll pack about 80,000 meals," said Ace Padian, project coordinator with the network. "Then the meals will be delivered to six pantries. I think itís rewarding and a good way to get people involved."

This year, the event will be held on a national level.

"The Alliance to End Hunger is a co-host for the Sunshine Summit to End Hunger, so itís a national event. Weíre bringing folks from different corners of country to help have that diversity," said Caitlyn Peacock, executive director for the network. "Weíve also partnered with the University of South Florida who conducted research, which will be incorporated into the event."

The 2017 summit will introduce its new edition; the Greenhouse initiative where social enterprises, non-profits and for profits will share their ideas to end hunger.

"Proposals were sent in and narrowed down to two by our Greenhouse team," Peacock said. "At the summit, panelists will be on stage to listen and then give advice on how to make it work and get the attention of for profits," Peacock said. "Itís not for the purpose of checks, but the goal is to connect them. Nonprofits can then create social enterprises that will help solve hunger."

The discussion will be opened to attendees.

"The No. 1 thing is to make sure people are aware that hunger exists," Peacock said. "We see unemployment rates getting better and the economy as a whole, itís getting better so they focus less on hunger as an issue. But there are 700,000 people who are food insecure through the Tampa Bay area. In Hillsborough County alone, there are 200,000 which is enough people to fill three Buccaneers stadium."

Inside the arena, attendees will find 25 breakout sessions, workshops and panel discussions.

"It doesnít matter if youíre brand new to the issue, if youíre an expert with a Ph.D. or a 20-year-old college student interested in social issues," Peacock said. "We host the conference to talk about hunger and ways, via workshops and interactive sessions, to empower attendees to help solve hunger in their communities."

Peacock has always been passionate about helping others. Before joining TBNEH in 2012, She started volunteering in college. She was also apart of AmeriCorps before making it to where she is now at TBNEH.

"The biggest moment for me, finding out hunger really existed and the size of the problem, was when I was working on the analysis and the hundreds of thousands of people in each county (Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas) were shocking," Peacock said. "I never thought it would be in the hundreds of thousands."

She channeled that energy, of feeling shocked, to do whatever she could to create programs and bring people together to talk about the issue.

And the two-day summit is a big part of that.

"We have the future of food recovery on Day 1. This year, since we have folks at the national, state and local levels, it will show what it will look like on every level," Peacock said. "Another topic is transportation since itís such a huge issue. We want to improve accessibility to healthy foods and tie it in with the transportation initiative. We can organize church vans and create a network of transportation."

Other highlights include a featured speaker who will share her personal experience with hunger, and policy discussions which will introduce attendees to ways they can get involved in a work team at a local level.

"Thereís a huge population on the brink of hunger and we donít want them to feel ashamed to get help. You hear stories of young girls performing sexual transactions for food and boys shoplifting. Not knowing where your next meal will come from causes a domino effect of problems," Peacock said. "We want to make the policy discussion, it will be like policy 101, as clear and concise as possible so if you feel like doing something about the issue, you can and not feel overwhelmed."

Padian who quit her corporate litigator job in San Francisco, and became a volunteer for TBNEH in 2015, did so to help others and be a positive influence for her new son.

"Weíll present the latest research on hunger, but the summit also provides insight from people who have boots on the ground. Our focus is to provide the tools they can use in their own communities such as the sensitivity training panel led by Day Star Life Center and Trinity Cafe," Padian said. "The vast majority of people who are food insecure work one or more jobs, are elderly or disabled so the panel shows how to treat clients with respect. Theyíre mostly people who fell on hard times"

Following the summit, TBNEH will continue to focus on initiatives such as work teams, the Garden to Go program and monthly meetings, as well as a new program, self-serve pantries set to launch in the spring.

Those in need can take from the pantries and those with extra food can donate.

"Hunger isnít just the guy over there," Peacock said.

Contact Arielle Waldman at [email protected]