Americorps VISTA Spotlight: Zane Peng

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work with coalitions this year? 

            Connecting with leaders of different coalitions across the state of Texas and talking about the projects they are doing or planning to do are extremely exciting. Through this process, I learned how some coalitions innovatively combined healthcare services with food distribution and the how others swiftly adapted their entire Summer Meals Program protocol in response to COVID-19. Moreover, the opportunity to contribute and be a part of some of these projects, such as the community assessment Brazoria county is creating, allow me to look at these projects from the point of view of a developer. Looking at the works of coalitions from all these different perspectives as I help them progress is what I find most rewarding so far.

How has your previous experience, either educational, work, life, or some combination of all of these, informed your work with coalitions? 

            One part of my identity will always be rooted in the multi-national upbringing I experienced since childhood. As I traveled between US and China, I also had the opportunity to meet a sundry of people with different experiences. The excitement during those times were never forgotten, and the same eagerness to learn more about others makes my work now feel great. More specifically to the topic of hunger, my time with the Rice Poverty and Global Health Coalition taught me the intricate connection between poverty, hunger, and health. Hunger is both a cause and a symptom of the afflictions that befall us, and I try to be mindful of such as I work with coalitions.

What are you learning about the issues of hunger and poverty in your work with coalitions? 

            The help provided by the government is essential for those experiencing hunger and poverty. Most of the coalitions I talked to have programs that focus on SNAP and summer meals and are collaborating with federal, state, and local governments. Data also has shown that government assistance contributes up to 90% of aid food insecure families receive. I also learned that hunger and poverty tend to discriminate. From community assessments I participated in, hunger and poverty often are more focused in already impoverished areas and areas that lack transportation.

What are you learning about institutions and individuals working to alleviate hunger and poverty in your regions? 

            The individuals who work in the coalitions I have interacted with care a lot about others and are always finding ways to improve. Some of them reminded me of medical personnel I have interacted with: nurses and physicians who are willing to work a little longer to ensure a few extra people get the help they need. On an institutional level, I am seeing firsthand how slow, but also how important, enacting systematic changes are. For example, working to eliminate stigma of federal assistance programs took a lot of planning and is still an ongoing effort, but from the changes that have been made, many more children are now taking classes with a filled belly.

What is a “Big Idea” you have that you would like to see implemented by coalitions to address hunger and poverty in your regions? 

As hunger is not an isolated issue, I think the coalitions, if they have the resource, can be even more impactful connecting with non-profits/coalitions focused in other areas such as housing. Together, perhaps as a multi-coalition community, there can be an all-encompassing grand goal much like what the UN did for its 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Underneath the grand goal, there are smaller goals with each focusing on a specific troubling issue, such as hunger and housing.



Zane Peng is an Americorps VISTA serving in the Houston Region of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty.

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