Tableau powers Feeding America’s digital advocacy for hunger relief

The data is in: our nation is facing a full-blown hunger crisis

Food prices are reaching a 50-year high. Unemployment rates are rivaling those of the Great Depression. Families are waiting in miles-long lines for hours to receive assistance from their local food banks. Amid twin public health and economic emergencies, our nation is facing unimaginable times.
Consequently, putting food on the table is harder than ever—and data confirm this. Prior to the pandemic, national food insecurity levels were the lowest they had been in 20 years. Due to COVID-19, that progress will likely be wiped out. Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States and Tableau Foundation partner, estimates (as of October 2020) that 1 in 6 people could be food insecure in 2020—up from 1 in 9 in 2019.
Since the onset of COVID-19, our network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs has been serving on the frontlines to ensure every single one of our neighbors has enough to eat. However, Feeding America member food banks have witnessed a dramatic and sustained 60% increase in need for food assistance—a meteoric rise that has overwhelmed our network’s capacity.
Just as data has been critical to confirming our nation’s unprecedented hunger crisis, data has been critical to making another thing clear: Our nation needs both a strong charitable sector and a deep government investment in federal food programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to ensure no one goes hungry. Using Tableau, Feeding America is focused on delivering data to lawmakers that shows how critical food assistance is this year and in the future, as the pandemic continues. We will dive into our data-driven advocacy approach below, but first, we’ll explain in more depth the solutions we’re hoping to elevate through our work.

Making the case for SNAP: our best anti-hunger tool

Our best bet for curbing our growing hunger crisis? Strengthening SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps.”
SNAP, our country’s largest program working to fight hunger, has proven for decades to be critical to safeguarding food security for millions of households in need—and its strength is unparalleled. In fact, for every meal the Feeding America network provides, SNAP provides nine, through the timely, targeted, and temporary delivery of benefits to people facing tough times.
In addition to being an anti-hunger powerhouse, SNAP is also an important economic multiplier. When SNAP recipients receive benefits, this frees up their budgets to purchase groceries and afford other basic needs, circulating the benefits within, and stimulating, local economies.
Feeding America knows that if our federal lawmakers increase SNAP benefits by at least 15%—similar to what was done following the Great Recession—we can help feed families who are already, and newly, facing hunger and turn the tide on our country’s economic downswing.

Food banks use data to support investment in SNAP

Whenever Feeding America works with lawmakers to support policies that help to make hunger a thing of the past, lawmakers always ask for one thing: data. They especially want targeted, state-specific data that makes the case for why the policy ask must be met with urgent action.
As Congress has worked on additional legislation to help families weather our current public health and economic crises, Feeding America has invested in data f that conveys the stark reality of hunger in America right now, making clear the necessity of increasing SNAP benefits. Here enters Tableau.
To showcase the increased threat of hunger due to COVID-19, our research team calculated the estimated impact of COVID-19 on US food insecurity rates. With this invaluable data, Feeding America’s research and government relations teams created a Tableau dashboard. The dashboard highlights how COVID-19 impacts hunger in every state and how SNAP is a viable tool for making sure no one goes hungry.
Using the Tableau dashboard’s dropdown menu, lawmakers and their staff can download fact sheets that provide a clear narrative on how their constituents are affected by COVID-19—and how SNAP can help. For example, a Georgia lawmaker can select “Georgia” from the menu and see that around 1,662,040 people may face hunger in 2020 because of the pandemic. After, the lawmaker can read about how  SNAP can provide much-needed support to Georgia’s families and benefit the state economy. Digestible, compelling data plus a clear call to action equals the best advocacy.

As a result of the pandemic, the advocacy landscape has transformed. In the past, Feeding America food-bank leaders would have coordinated in-person meetings with members of Congress, sharing leave-behinds outlining our network’s policy priorities. With the collective pivot to virtual advocacy, the tools we use to fight for change have also evolved. Tableau allows us to condense a large amount of data into a “one-stop shop” of information on our advocacy website that is perfect for easy, efficient digital outreach.



An inside look: the SNAP and COVID-19 Tableau dashboard

Here is how we built the dynamic state fact sheets for legislators:

  1. The final dashboard has multiple worksheets, with one sheet dedicated to each US state.
  2. Each sheet has its own set of static text and dynamic text. The dynamic text responds to filters made on the dashboard to show the selected state’s information and specific data points.
  3. Each sheet was created as a text mark type by selecting Text in the Marks card.
  4. Each field (such as the state dimension and each of the state-specific measures) needed for the dynamic data values was dragged onto the Marks card.
  5. The label for each sheet was edited to enter the static text and insert measures to incorporate the dynamic metrics.
  6. These steps were repeated 7 times for each separate worksheet.
  7. Finally, each of the sheets was brought together on the final dashboard. The final product is a dynamic fact sheet published on our website.

Below is an example of what the sheets looked like and how they were built to appear and function like text boxes, updating dynamically with the a person’s selections.

For Feeding America, the resulting dashboard accomplishes two things: It paints a clear picture for lawmakers of how hunger is impacting their communities, and names an actionable pathway for tackling the nation’s hunger crisis. Our member food banks have shared the tool with policymakers, helping to elevate the need for increasing SNAP benefits as soon as possible to those who can implement this change. It also ensures that this critical policy ask is on the radar of legislators.


Data must be met with action to spark change

No one should ever have to worry where their next meal will come from—yet  right now, millions of people feel this concern, and do not have enough to eat. If the charitable sector works hand-in-hand with strengthened federal, food-assistance programs, we have the power to help fill empty plates across the nation.
We have the data that provides evidence of successful tools that decrease skyrocketing rates of food insecurity, making the case to use every tool within our reach. Now, we still need action from our lawmakers. Join Feeding America in raising your voice and urging our members of Congress to provide the hunger-relief measures that millions of people can no longer continue to wait for.

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