Mazon hosts annual gala in D.C. ahead of Farm Bill vote

Group honors politicians, Jewish leaders for dedication to combating food insecurity

In the U.S, 44 million people don’t know if they will have access to breakfast tomorrow morning. 

To recognize several lawmakers helping those who struggle with hunger, some 200 concerned philanthropists gathered last Tuesday night at the annual Mazon gala, held at Union Station in Washington, D.C. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), ranking member of the House Rules Committee and co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, were honored at the event, which was called “Hunger Bites,” for their longtime commitment to end hunger and strengthen America’s nutrition safety net.

This year’s was Mazon’s first in Washington and it took place just days before the House Agriculture Committee voted on a divisive Farm Bill proposal, which authorizes federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known by its acronym SNAP. Abby Leibman, the national anti-hunger nonprofit’s president and CEO, called the decision to host the event in D.C. “a choice to honor the policymakers who are the true champions for those who struggle with hunger.” 

“The week we did this turned out to be the biggest focal point for anti-hunger policy in the country,” Leibman told eJewishPhilanthropy, pointing to the Farm Bill. “It’s a moment of great focus on our work so [hosting the event in DC] made great sense to us.” (On Thursday night, the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee passed its version of a $1.5 trillion farm spending bill, which shrinks funding for SNAP, with just four Democratic votes.) 

Also honored at Hunger Bites were Josh Protas, the group’s former vice president of public policy who is now chief advocacy and policy officer at Meals on Wheels America, and Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky, a Mazon board chair who leads Congregation Beth Shalom in Teaneck, N.J. 

Protas, whose work focuses primarily on food insecurity among military families, said at the event, “food is foundational to who we are as people.” 

He told the story of his grandmother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Poland at a young age after her father was killed in a pogrom. “She was full of stories,” Protas said, recalling her first bite of food after arriving at Ellis Island. “It was a chance to move past tragedies… for her that bite meant the world…what we fight for, food, is just that.”