Public Relations Tactics

Project Bread's Fight Against Hunger in Massachusetts

November 1, 2017

Maureen Halley Lederhos [albert chau]
Maureen Halley Lederhos [albert chau]

As the director of marketing communications for Project Bread, a Boston-based organization that helps feed Massachusetts residents in need, Maureen Halley Lederhos approaches hunger as a complex problem with multiple solutions.

While speaking during the Networking Luncheon at PRSA’s 2017 International Conference on Oct. 9, Lederhos shared a recent Project Bread video that featured striking statistics about individuals in her state who lack access to nutritious food. For example, more than 675,000 residents in Massachusetts are “food insecure.”

“Change is the only thing we can be certain of,” she said. “The same can be said about hunger. It’s changing on a regular basis.”

Tackling a systemic problem

According to Lederhos, one out of every 10 households in Massachusetts suffers from food insecurity, which can range from families struggling with grocery funds (“They’re eating cereal for breakfast and cereal for dinner”) to individuals who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

In other words, this is a problem of both today and tomorrow, and Project Bread’s goal is to feed people who are hungry right now, while also working to address the systemic changes that cause it.

To address Massachusetts’ hunger problem, Project Bread has implemented a variety of outreach programs in addition to its annual Walk for Hunger, which will be celebrating its 50th year in 2018 and has raised over $100 million to date. The organization’s advocacy work is based around a series of inspirational mottos:

  1. Protect our children.
  2. Serve up healthy with a side of dignity.
  3. Hunger is silent so we speak up.
  4. Plant a garden, grow a neighborhood.

Some of Project Bread’s initiatives range from developing a free cookbook for homeless families who reside in hotel rooms and lack access to proper kitchens, to a program that provides incentives for people on food stamps to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Lederhos admitted, however, that it’s sometimes difficult for Project Bread to successfully spread its message while complying with its own integrity principles. For instance, the organization refuses to exploit the faces of suffering individuals for marketing or advertising campaigns. “It’s always a challenge because we try to protect the dignity of those we serve at all costs,” she said.

But as long as there’s hunger, Lederhos and Project Bread are committed to figuring out the communications channels that will allow the organization to feed as many Massachusetts residents as it can.

“Good food is a basic right,” she said. “Everyone deserves access to nutritious food.”


Backstage Q-and-A With Maureen Halley Lederhos

 

What do people misunderstand about hunger?

The face of hunger is constantly shifting. I think everybody has a preconceived notion of what a hungry person looks like. That’s misinformed because you can have hunger in affluent communities; you can have hunger in the inner city. It’s no less in one, and no more in the other.


How does Project Bread appeal to elected officials?

Right out of the gate, we have to advocate. We have to look and see how we can lobby different organizations on the state and federal level for change. We have to look at the systemic challenges in place, too. There’s plenty of food in the world; it’s just a question of how you get it to the people who need it the most.


How are statistics and data helpful in understanding hunger?

From the standpoint of thought leadership, Project Bread has to look at the data that’s made available through some of the leading hunger [experts] — organizations like FRAC and USDA. They’re putting out data about how many children are food insecure. That data gives us the framework to look at where we’re going to put our resources.


How does Project Bread use social media and technology to spread its message?

Project Bread relies on social media, but it’s for a specific slice of our demographic. When I think about those who participate in the Walk for Hunger, who have been walking for 48 or 49 years, they’re really not following social media.

Facebook provides a good means for us to get messaging across. We can create our own content. We can watch to see how our content is shared. LinkedIn is a [good] platform for us, too, because it [has] a corporate mentality. It’s about understanding the different platforms and who uses those platforms and how best to scale your messaging to make sure it gets out there.

Dean Essner

Dean Essner is the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications. A former resident of Washington, D.C., he holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English from the University of Maryland. Email: dean.essner@prsa.org.

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