Partners in Action:

Candidates’ Forum, Bellingham Food Bank

Hosting a candidates’ forum is a fantastic way to build rapport and ensure commitment from local officials on pressing social issues. The Bellingham Food Bank hosts an annual forum each year by engaging community partners and candidates. Read more about this innovative best practice and get involved and inspired!

What is a candidates’ forum? Every year there are elections for City or State races. A coalition of human needs providers host a candidates’ forum.  We typically work to create 4-5 questions for each race. They focus on how local/state government can be involved in addressing issues like hunger, affordable housing, affordable childcare, health care, and other issues. We have hosted these since 2005. Each candidate is asked the same questions and they have time for a response and a rebuttal.  They do not get the questions in advance. 

Why would a food bank be interested in organizing a candidates’ forum? If we don’t ask these questions of candidates, nobody will. We believe government has a direct and indirect role in addressing issues of poverty. We learn where candidates stand on issues. We are also able really educate candidates AND audience members about the current state of hunger in our community. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard someone say “I had no idea that many people were hungry here.”

What community partners do you work with to organize a forum? Local community action agencies, community health care centers, United Way, homeless services, soup kitchens. 
How much work/time is involved? At least 20 hours total. We have lots of tools to help any interested groups along. 

Do you invite clients to come to the forum? How do you get the word out to the public? We invite clients, staff, board members, other professional peers. We challenge each community human service provider to bring at least 10 people. We encourage folks running for office to get their people there. We use Facebook, press releases, and local political blogs to help spread the word. 

Any tips or advice to others interested in organizing a candidates’ forum? Do it!  And call us for lessons learned.