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Yaneli Hernandez-Tapia: Lived Experience Leading the Movement

About the Policy Leadership Council:
Oregon Food Bank's Policy Leadership Council — made up entirely of community leaders with lived experience of hunger and its root causes — will, going forward, determine Oregon Food Bank's policy agenda. The Council will act collectively to identify opportunities for change, articulate a systems-change platform to guide Oregon Food Bank’s legislative priorities, and set our positions on legislation and ballot measures.
By recruiting and empowering leaders from communities directly impacted by hunger, Oregon Food Bank will build, share and expand the power needed to advance racial justice and win systemic change.

Introducing Yaneli Hernandez-Tapia

(she/her/hers) Salem, Oregon

Yaneli Hernandez-Tapia is a youth environmentalist, farmer and racial-justice activist in her hometown of Salem, Oregon. Working in the Oregon Food Bank Network, Yaneli visits food distribution sites and health clinics to provide food and other important resources to the community. Through this role, she gets to work toward the future she envisions: a future where food is accessible to all, where poverty is not stigmatized and where collectively we work together to end hunger.

But for Yaneli, the experiences of those in her community are not new to her: every day she sees parents and kids seeking food and resources just like she and her mom did when she was younger. She knows the stress and pain of not having enough food in the house. She knows what it’s like to be a college student scraping by with barely enough to budget toward food.

And because of these experiences, Yaneli also knows the power of community support: she remembers the neighbor who, though she also didn’t have much, showed up for her and her mom. “When I was a kid, I remember sometimes my mom would be crying at the table. She would be crying because there wasn't enough food for me. And so she would sacrifice some of the food for me to eat. And I remember sometimes we didn't have enough money for food that sometimes my mom's neighbor — she was also Latina — she'd be like, ‘You guys shouldn't be going hungry. I know this isn't much —I don't have much — but here's a bag of beans. Here's some Mexican sweet bread. It's not nutritious, but it'll keep your stomach full.’”

Yaneli’s lived experience sparked her passion for food justice and showed her the revolutionary power of collective care. “It’s okay to ask for help and it's okay to compromise and give help,” she says of changing our mindsets around individualism. “If you’re able to help, help another person. We can go from being individualistic to being a more collectivistic society.”

When Yaneli was asked to join Oregon Food Bank’s Policy Leadership Council, she jumped at the opportunity. “I got super excited because I was like, oh, I get to be part of a council. I can make change, bit by bit.”

We know that people who have experienced food insecurity are the experts on hunger and the systemic injustices that cause it. That’s why the Policy Leadership Council is led by people like Yaneli as it sets direction for Oregon Food Bank’s policy and advocacy work. As one of the youngest members of the council, Yaneli’s expertise in food justice and lived experience of hunger and its root causes uniquely position her to bring a critical perspective to the table to advocate for younger and future generations.

At the root of Yaneli’s work is the belief that food is a basic human right: it should be accessible to everyone, financially, culturally and dietarily. Her work on two fronts to bring nutritious food to families today and to make lasting policy change is exactly the kind of community power it will take to end hunger for good.

“Enacting a council that's not only BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and all People of Color) people, but people from all walks of life that have, when it comes to intersectionality, experienced some sort of oppression, I feel like it's good that all of these people unite and bring their unique lenses to enacting small policy changes that would be statewide or local,” she shares. “It's important to keep that work up every single day in order to make a change.”

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