Continuing our series of profiles of Hunger Fellow alums, let’s catch up with Jessica Luna. Jessica was an Emerson National Hunger Fellow in the 17th Class, working with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties in California, and with the National Family Farm Coalition in Washington, D.C., and now works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I really appreciate the anti-racist lens that the Hunger Center’s work continues to take as it moves forward. I find that really powerful and unique, and I don’t know any other programs out there doing this kind of work.”
Jessica Luna has long had an interest in the USDA’s SNAP program, writing her senior thesis at Harvard on “Food Stamp Users and the Alternative Food Movement.” Now she’s an analyst working for SNAP at the USDA Food & Nutrition Service’s national office. “I’m really fortunate to be working here,” she says, “because I have always wanted to work at and understand the SNAP program at the place where it’s shaped and changed.”
Jessica’s portfolio includes liaising with states to ensure consistent administration of SNAP, as well as oversight of demonstration projects to improve service or reach specific underserved populations. She also works on a project to modernize eligibility systems across the states, ensuring recipients are enrolled and receive benefits in a timely manner.
“I think it’s really important that we have people who are passionate about SNAP (or any Federal government program) in government,” says Jessica, “who want to make government more effective and efficient, who have an understanding of the program, a passion for the law, and want to make sure that our regulations make sense—and that we’re helping the people who have to implement them to do it in the most effective way possible, to ultimately serve the people who are going to benefit from that program.”
Jessica’s work on SNAP has taken several forms since her time as a Hunger Fellow, starting as an outreach advocate with the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), and continuing as a research associate with the Urban Institute. “Being here (at USDA) I’ve been able to see a different perspective than when I was an advocate or researcher,” she says, “because there’s so much you don’t see when you’re outside of government of what actually goes on inside government as far as shaping policy, and I had always wondered what that looks like. I feel like I could be most effective if I knew all sides’ positions on the issues, and could use that knowledge to inform policy solutions or support new initiatives.”
One of Jessica’s main takeaways from the Emerson National Hunger Fellows program was related to finding her place in the world of anti-hunger work, despite not always feeling like she belonged. “The intentionality around our work mentality, understanding our unique roles and what we can learn (as fellows in a field or policy site) has stuck with me…the fellowship helped me think about how you can navigate and operate in these privileged spaces and use your knowledge and experiences for good.”
She also appreciates the role of the Emerson program in forming professional networks and career development. “Helping you make connections you couldn’t otherwise; support to attend conferences or trainings that otherwise wouldn’t be financially accessible to us; giving marginalized communities that kind of access is really valuable.”
Based in Washington, D.C., Jessica is excited to maintain ties with the Emerson Hunger Fellows program, offering support to successive classes of fellows. “I really appreciate the anti-racist lens that the Hunger Center’s work continues to take as it moves forward,” she says. “I find that really powerful and unique, and I don’t know any other programs out there doing this kind of work.”
From our 25th Anniversary Impact Report, “Fighting Hunger by Developing Leaders: How Hunger Fellows Continue to Shape the World.”