Interview with David DeVaughn, Manager of Policy & Government Relations, City Harvest

by nycadmin

David DeVaughn is the Manager, Policy & Government Relations at City Harvest where he works to reduce the underlying causes of hunger and food insecurity by advocating for the long-term changes that improve community self-sufficiency. On behalf of City Harvest, David works with federal, state, and local partners on food security issues to support improved access to affordable food, local agriculture, and community development. David is also a convener of the New York City Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization.What motivated you to get involved with food policy and to become a food policy advocate?  While an undergrad at Williams College, I participated in a volunteer program teaching third graders healthy eating and active living habits at local elementary schools.  I used to think food was all about taste, culture, diet, and exercise, until I witnessed the contrast in access to fruits and vegetables between the public elementary school attended by professors’ children in Williamstown, MA, as compared to a nearby public elementary school. These schools were just minutes away from each other, but the prospects for good jobs, among other factors, demonstrated how a wide-range of polices affect a community’s ability to control their local food system.  One day the physical education teacher in North Adams pulled me aside and said that the children in some of his classes were the children of his peers that his parents did not let him spend time with as a child.  He made it clear that his anecdote came from the perspective that “the smart ones get out if there is an opportunity,” and it opened my eyes that there was a lot more going on than what these families chose to eat.  From then on, I wanted to work to address these kinds of disparities.

You work full time for City Harvest, but you are involved with New York City Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization (NYC4CNR). Can you explain your role and City Harvest’s role in NYC4CNR?

My role at City Harvest is Manager of Policy & Government Relations, and my work focuses on reducing the underlying causes of hunger and food insecurity by advocating for programs, policies, and private-sector actions that bring about long-term change and improve community self-sufficiency.  I work with federal, state, and local partners on food security issues to support improved access to affordable food, local agriculture, and community development.  I co-convene the NYC4CNR on behalf of City Harvest, with the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education, & Policy Teachers College Columbia University.  NYC4CNR allows me to work with local organizations and government towards federal policy change, and provide input into City Harvest initiatives like Feed Our Kids, our campaign to fight childhood hunger.

The Child Nutrition Act expires on October 1, 2015.  For those that don’t already know, can you briefly explain why this bill is so important to NYC? 

The NYC public school system serves approximately 850,000 meals a day to more than 1.1 million students, and more than 70% of our school-age children are eligible for a free school lunch.  The number of meals served is second only to the U.S. military, and reminds us how large of a player NYC is in administering federally funded food to our children.  The Child Nutrition Act reauthorizes the funding for nutritional support for expecting mothers and their young children, afterschool meals, senior meals, as well as school breakfast and lunch during the academic year and the summer.  We need to make clear to Congress that these programs are vitally important to the health, educational attainment, and food security of millions of NYC students and that any setback to the nutritional gains made in the last Child Nutrition Act, the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, cannot be tolerated.

Can you explain the specific goals of NYC4CNR’s Campaign?  Is the program successful?  What are some of the key areas you’ve impacted or accomplishments of NYC4CNR? 

The top three goals of the NYC4CNR campaign are:

  1. Ensuring that every child has year-round access to high quality food.
  2. Maintaining nutrition standards and support nutrition education.
  3. Increasing program resources and technical assistance.

Thanks to an early start in April 2014, we have been a successful model for CNR alliances across the country.  We worked with NYC government officials and over 70 organizations to craft and support the NYC4CNR Policy Platform as we look towards a Child Nutrition Act that strives to strengthen local economies and communities by ensuring children are free from hunger, well-nourished, and ready to learn.  Since forming in April 2014, NYC4CNR has cultivated a relationship with the Office of Senator Gillibrand, who is a perennial strong supporter of strengthening CNR programs.

What are some of the most effective mobilization efforts created by NYC4CNR?

NYC4CNR is only as strong as the members we have at the table.  Our work so far has been to inform and create materials, messages and opportunities for organizations to act for a strong Child Nutrition Act in 2015.  Most recently, we completed the NYC4CNR Policy Platform and are seeking organizations to sign on in support.  As we start to see drafts of the legislation in the coming weeks/months, we will mobilize around protecting and strengthening the bill through the networks of our member organizations.

Many NYC4CNR members are a part of the Powered by Breakfast NYC and Lunch 4 Learning coalitions that continue to strive for universal free access for NYC public school students.

I am encouraged to see in NYC’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget that the de Blasio administration and City Council included 1) $17.9 million to phase-in breakfast in the classroom at 530 New York City elementary schools serving 339,000 students by Fiscal Year 2018 and; 2) free universal school lunch in standalone middle schools graduating from a pilot project to a budget line item for the 2015/16 school year.

Focusing locally, what do you believe to be the greatest food policy challenges for New York City?  And the greatest opportunities?

In my opinion, the greatest food policy challenge and opportunity for New York City is to allow those most affected by policies and programs to have greater influence on how those policies and programs are designed and administered.  This is an area in which I am striving to gain skills, and through my work with different coalitions in the city, I know there is increasing appetite for conversations about equity and working towards food and racial justice.

What is the one food policy change at the federal level that would have the greatest impact on health? 

The Child Nutrition Act in 2015 must strengthen local economies and communities by ensuring children are free from hunger, well-nourished, and ready to learn.

Fact Sheet

What’s the last Food Policy Book or website your reading: Actually, it was a report, the Center for Social Inclusion’s Building the Case for Racial Equity in the Food System.

Your Current Location: New York, NY

Your Education: 

  • Master in Public Administration – National Urban Fellow, Baruch School of Public Affairs, New York, NY
  • Bachelor of Arts, Williams College, Williamstown, MA

Your Favorite Food: Right now, anything from Filipino restaurants in NYC

Your Website:

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