HungerCorps Serve at a Critical Time
James Addicott wants to serve the community, and underserved populations in particular, as a primary care physician one day, so he started his journey of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA for United Way of King County in the summer of 2020.
Addicott said he decided to serve again in 2021 and attended the virtual swearing-in of the last cohort of AmeriCorps VISTAS in late July, where he talked about his experience serving the community.
Addicott served as a summer HungerCorps with Solid Ground, a poverty-fighting nonprofit organization, in 2020 Seattle. This year he’s working in the food bank at El Centro de La Raza, an agency grounded in the Latino community of Washington.
“I’m really grateful to be serving at an influential organization that’s been serving its community for so long since its founding during the Chicano and Latino civil rights movement,” Addicott said of El Centro.
“The pandemic robbed so many people of their jobs and their homes, but for me, it unfairly opened up new opportunities,” Addicott added. “So, I aim to give back to those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and AmeriCorps helps me do that.”
Addicott is one of United Way’s 90 summer VISTAS, who are also known as HungerCorps because they help fight food insecurity in the community, especially during the pandemic.
“AmeriCorps members and national service are at the heart of this work—from connecting households to rent assistance, to building new systems, to connecting families to resources like SNAP and Free School Meals,” said Sara Seelmeyer, food security program manager at United Way of King County.
AmeriCorps staff operate Free Summer Meals sites across the county. Many families depend on free or reduced-price meals during the school year, but that resource is not available in the summer. The Free Summer Meals program helps to ensure children have access to nutritious food in the community.
Seelmeyer said United Way hired and deployed more than 200 AmeriCorps members over the past year. They have worked in programs like Bridge to Finish, which helps community college students finish their education, and Fuel Your Future, providing food relief to thousands of families across the county.
“These summer HungerCorps are adding critical capacity to our emergency food system by serving summer meals to youth, helping food banks scale their home delivery programs, preparing meals for seniors and leading community food distributions,” said Seelmeyer. “Their service is critical, particularly as our community faces deepening rates of food insecurity due to the pandemic.”
Meg Ansara, national director of AmeriCorps VISTA, administered the oath to the new VISTAs. Ansara pointed out that this is the same oath VISTAs have been saying since 1965, when the agency was founded. “You are joining an amazing tradition,” she said.
In her remarks, Ansara told the new members that they are “truly living through extraordinary times” but that VISTA is “uniquely positioned to really meet the moment.”
Ansara noted how the pandemic has caused “tremendous harm” to the country—harm that is visible in the miles-long lines of cars waiting to get food at food banks, as well as the pain experienced by those who’ve lost jobs.
“We also know that so much of its destruction has exacerbated inequity that has long existed in this country,” Ansara said.
“This is where you and the amazing work of AmeriCorps VISTA come in,” said Ansara. “I firmly believe that the VISTA program was made for this moment to work in partnership with communities to concretely help people in need.”