– Food Security Coalition Member Profile: Debi Budnick

– Food Security Coalition Member Profile: Debi Budnick

Debi Budnick
Community Health & Wellness Coordinator, Skyline Hospital
Food Security Coalition Steering Committee, Direct Service & Engagement Work Group


What specifically do you/your organization do? How does your work relate to the Coalition?

Hospitals have a responsibility to the communities they serve because they’re in a really unique position with access to doctors, foundations, physical spaces, and other resources. They have an inherent responsibility to care for their communities, with a shift in focus towards prevention that came with the Affordable Care Act. All hospitals should be doing some sort of community health work and addressing the underlying health needs of the community. Skyline Hospital is really proactive about this.

My role as Community Health & Wellness Coordinator is to be out in the community, partly trying to figure out what the needs are, and also making sure the community knows about programs we offer and the other services that are out there. I attend a lot of community meetings and table at community events; I sit on boards, coalitions, and committees, just listening, trying to hear from our smaller communities and the larger, Gorge-wide community about what the needs are and who is doing what. I think about how Skyline can collaborate with those partner programs, whether that’s connecting with our healthcare providers, or producing informational videos, or offering classes.


Why is working on food security important to you, or what motivates you to be involved in the Coalition? How does the Coalition advance your work?

Access to healthy food is a large part of someone’s health and wellness. I chose to participate in the Food Security Coalition because we know food insecurity is a big issue in the Gorge, and while we don’t necessarily have the solutions yet, we want to be part of that process. I feel a real responsibility in my professional role, as someone getting paid when there are so many volunteers and community members doing this without compensation, to really put in the time to address this issue.

In Klickitat County we have all these little unincorporated towns, where sometimes the most accessible store is a corner store. If you don’t have transportation or the ability to drive to a grocery store, all you can do is walk to the store and get junk food, and we know that not really healthy for people. Wages in relation to food cost here is an issue as well. I would love to see the Coalition address the needs of these small communities. I am really happy to be a part of this larger conversation about what the actual needs of the community are, and where are people’s energies and abilities to address these needs.

The Food Security Coalition provides the opportunity to bring all these important voices together from all these different organizations who all have a tiny little piece on this, but it’s not any one person’s job necessarily. And, we know that people move throughout the Gorge—it’s one community. Some of the people who live in Husum will go shopping at Grocery Outlet in The Dalles, for example. The Food Security Coalition advances my work because it brings all these ideas and expertise together. There’s a ripple effect among us, and we can replicate each other’s’ successful projects, or an information transfer will happen, and the flow of ideas happens very organically in the Coalition.

What do you wish people knew more about regarding your work/food security?

Chronic disease, obesity, diabetes—there’s this perception that a lot of that is personal choice. That perception comes from a place of privilege, from someone who has that ability to choose. But, there are so many other things that affect a person’s health: their zip code, for example. I wish people would vote and support initiatives that were community-based, or policy-based so we could give folks the opportunity to make a healthy choice, but also remove some of those barriers that they were born into, that from day one the odds were stacked against them in terms of their health. I would like to invite us all to move beyond this idea that chronic disease is a personal choice. Generations of poverty and trauma have a larger effect on health than choice.

I wish people understood the value that a small community-based healthcare system can add in terms of being responsive to the needs of the community. Skyline is so unique—our CEO’s door is always open, and we can access him directly instead going through bureaucratic channels to get things done. We have the ability to be really responsive to our community and its needs.

I also wish there was more understanding around the complexities of food security—it’s not just making sure healthy food is available at the grocery store. Housing situation really impacts food security. For example, buying in bulk is cheaper, but what if you can’t properly store your food because you live in a trailer and maybe there’s mice? Or when I’m doing cooking demonstrations down at the food bank and they have a ton of spaghetti squash, I can’t tell folks to just “pop it in the oven,” because not everyone may have an oven. So food security isn’t just having good food around you—it’s being able to afford it, being able to store, and being able to prepare it.


Are there any partnerships/relationships would you like to form more of?

The nation’s food system is set up so that unhealthy food is cheapest—I wish our story here had a pipeline to policymakers in Washington, and we could connect with someone who is tackling these things from another level.


Could you share a fun fact about yourself so we can all get to know you a bit more?

This winter I started Zumba and I’ve since been wondering why I ever spent so much time doing anything else.