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Sep 25, 2023

A Conversation with Lorianne Burhop of Montana Food Bank Network

This interview is part of our inaugural impact report, The Ripple Effect.

Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) works to end hunger in Montana through food distribution and policy engagement. Their team builds relationships with people across Montana and educates policymakers on the importance of public nutrition programs (like SNAP) – the difference they make for families, barriers to access, and ways to make programs work better for Montanans. MFBN also works to address root causes to food insecurity and demonstrate connections with other issues like housing, childcare and healthcare access.

Headwaters Foundation is proud to support Montana Food Bank Network’s policy work through Amplify Montana. We sat down with Lorianne Burhop, Chief Policy Officer at MFBN, to hear about the importance of engaging lived experts as leaders and her organization’s partnership with Headwaters Foundation.

What is Amplify Montana?

Amplify Montana is an exciting initiative that we acquired last year from No Kid Hungry aimed at bringing people who experience food insecurity into the policy work that we’re doing at Montana Food Bank Network. Through this program, we have built trusting, authentic relationships with people with lived experience, learned from them, and connected them directly with policymakers to ensure that their voices and stories are heard at the table where decisions are being made.

Can you tell us a story about a community member who participates in Amplify Montana?

On our most recent trip to DC, we were fortunate to travel with a member of our Amplify Montana Advisory Board, an amazing advocate and mom. She spoke powerfully about her experience with food insecurity, including participating in SNAP benefits, and the importance of policies that strengthen access to assistance programs. Having her there added so much to our conversations with congressional offices. She also brought her kids to show them the power of using your voice and telling your story.

How has engaging advocates with lived experience strengthened your policy work?

MFBN can share policy details and provide data and higher-level information on the impact of programs, but as an organization, we can’t speak to what it means to not know if you’re going to have food for your family. We can’t speak to the frustration of the numerous barriers that stand in your way when you try to access SNAP benefits, even when you’re eligible for that assistance program. People with lived experience of food insecurity truly bring an expertise to the table that is often missing from policy conversations. Hearing the voices of Montanans experiencing these issues on-the-ground makes it real for policymakers.

What has been a recent win or success?

In the last legislative session, we worked to create a statewide Farm to Food Bank Program to increase access to fresh, nutrient-dense, locally grown food for Montanans living on low incomes, and keep dollars in our state and local food system. While the bill ultimately didn’t pass, we made a lot of connections between food pantries and their customers, farmers and ranchers, and other partners. We saw strong bipartisan support from legislators, and incredible support from Montanans showing up to testify and make calls. It’s clear that this model has the potential to benefit Montana families and farmers, and to contribute to a stronger food economy in our state. We will continue to work with partners to carry this model forward.

How has your partnership with Headwaters Foundation been beneficial?

It can be hard to find funders that want to support policy work. It’s easier to find funding for programs that are tangible, that are going to distribute a certain amount of food to a certain number of families. Policy is longer term and less clear; finding funders who are willing to support that big-picture change, and to be flexible, is critical. Headwaters Foundation has been a key funding partner in the policy space. They have also struck a balance of staying engaged and showing support, while giving space to grantees to lead the work and make changes as they need to. It has been an awesome partnership.

Thank you to MFNB for the vital work they do for Montanans, and to Lorianne for sitting down with us for this interview!

To learn more about Montana Food Bank Network and get involved in their policy work, check out the Action Center on their website. They keep it up to date with current legislative priorities at the state and federal levels, and you can sign up for newsletters and action alerts.

Find more interviews with Western Montana changemakers in The Ripple Effect.

Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.