Towards a More Equitable Society: Anti-Hunger Advocacy in Baltimore

Maryam TaysirEmerson, Field, Policy, Updates

Above: Maryam Taysir, 29th Class Emerson National Hunger Fellow, in Washington, D.C.

It’s almost midnight in Nablus, Palestine where I was visiting for the summer. I’m sitting with my family when, after months of anticipation, I get the news. “I’m going to Baltimore, Maryland!”

The excitement filled the room, and in that moment, I realized how this journey had come full circle. It was during my time in Palestine that my commitment to anti-hunger advocacy was ignited. As a young teenager, I witnessed in my village, in the occupied West Bank, how families would come together to ensure everyone was fed. After moving back to Memphis, Tennessee, I partook in similar efforts happening in the food deserts of the city. These experiences showed me how vital it is to directly address hunger issues and advocate for necessary changes, no matter where I am.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I found myself back in Memphis, preparing for my move to Baltimore. The nervousness and excitement blended together, as I believed that Baltimore, much like Memphis, offered opportunities to apply my learnings for the benefit of my community.

Little did I know that my time in Maryland would be truly transformative. To start, a wonderful elderly Indian and Pakistani couple welcomed me into their home and took me in as one of their own. They shared stories of their decades-long community service and anti-hunger advocacy work, both in Maryland and abroad. My time listening to their experiences and their words of encouragement only fueled my dedication to this field. You never know who you’ll meet through this fellowship.

I was placed with Maryland Hunger Solutions (MDHS), whose mission is to eradicate hunger and enhance the nutrition, health, and overall well-being of individuals, families, and children in Maryland.

MDHS aims to eliminate barriers and establish sustainable connections between Maryland residents and nutritious food sources. My work with them included assisting with SNAP outreach efforts to underserved populations via an in-house hotline, clarifying eligibility and the SNAP application process, and raising awareness about SNAP resources.

My research partner and I also created and presented a toolkit in Spanish that examines the common fears and barriers experienced by Spanish-speaking immigrants applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in Maryland. In Maryland, immigrants make up approximately 15% of the population, with about one-third being undocumented, and one in eight children having an undocumented parent. Many of the barriers they encounter remain unrecognized and unaddressed.

To gain a better overall understanding of the institutional barriers in place, we interviewed two SNAP outreach coordinators at MDHS, including one specialist fluent in Spanish. We also conducted a survey among previous MDHS clients, aiming to explore their perceptions of the SNAP application process from the perspective of their citizenship status. Our findings were truly enlightening.

Our research revealed that the systemic barriers preventing Spanish-speaking immigrants from accessing the benefits of SNAP are deeply rooted in xenophobia, criminalization tactics, and fear of deportation. These fears discourage non-English speaking households from participating in the SNAP application process, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and limiting their access to critical food resources. The results emphasize the difficult choices immigrant families may face when seeking assistance and underscores the importance of ensuring that social safety net programs are accessible, non-stigmatizing, and compassionate. With this knowledge and insight into lived experiences, we created a myth-busting toolkit translated into Spanish. This toolkit serves as a valuable resource for Spanish-speaking SNAP applicants, and I’m pleased to share that MDHS currently distributes and utilizes it.

After my work with Maryland Hunger Solutions came to a close, it was time for me to start my policy site placement. I was so excited to hear that I’d be paired with the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice which co-anchors The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The Kairos Center mission draws on “the power of religions and human rights, the Kairos Center works to raise up generations of religious and community leaders committed to the unity and organization of the poor as the leading social force in the building of a broad transformative movement to end poverty.” Kairos serves as a center for movement strategy, coordination, and education among the poor across all lines of division. I have been involved in multiple Poor People’s Campaign organized efforts in Memphis since high school and it is an opportunity of a lifetime to work with Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy organization. At Kairos, I work with the policy team to research and assist in writing policy fact sheets and collecting data that help develop the priorities of the PPC around specific policy demands as well as aid in their organizing efforts for the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Action Congress.

Looking back, this entire journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. From Palestine to Memphis to Baltimore to D.C., each step has reaffirmed my commitment to fighting hunger, advocating for change, and working towards a more equitable society. I am honored to be part of these organizations and to contribute to the legacies they carry. The experiences gained and the people I have met along the way have undoubtedly shaped me, and I am eager to continue working towards a world where hunger and poverty are no longer a reality.

About the Authors

Taysir headshot

Maryam Taysir

Emerson Fellow

Maryam Taysir graduated from Rhodes College with a major in Business Management and a minor in Jewish, Islamic, & Middle East Studies, but her biggest accomplishment is being the eldest sister of five siblings. Maryam was the community service chair for 901 Ummah, a nonprofit organization that fosters a productive Muslim community that reaches across the city of Memphis to inspire, create, and empower. She manages ‘Feed the City’, a program that aims to eliminate food insecurity in downtown Memphis by providing hot, nutritious, and multicultural meals to those in need. She is the co-founder and president of the campus organization, Students for Justice in Palestine, which stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle for self-determination, justice, and equality through educational programming. She was also a mentor for the Multicultural Vision Program (MVP) at Rhodes as well as a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion intern at Autozone, Inc.

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