Thursday, February 5, 2015

Time for family dinner!

Stop and think back to your last dinner. I am sure the thoughts are many and diverse - it could have been at a restaurant with family, your favorite show was on and so you sat in the living room and ate, maybe it was a quick meal by yourself before heading off to an event, or the scene when you get home from work and meal preparation begins then, as a family, you all sit around the table and enjoy the food, conversation, and fun!

This last scene was the first thought that came to my mind. I grew up in a home where at least 5 nights out of the week I would sit at the table with my family and enjoy a full dinner. If not at home we were at a restaurant or event. We would laugh, talk about our days and just enjoy each other’s company. I imagine for most of you this was the scene that came to mind and I am sure the thoughts were full of great memories of times with family and friends. Even now when I venture home from college my family is still sure to have a couple of nice sit down dinners.

These thoughts on family dinners came to me yesterday when the site supervisor at the Community Youth Program (CYP) at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Roanoke shared with me that the kids that come to the CYP really look forward to sitting around a table and enjoying a meal with other children.  She said that they don’t get that at home, the resources for a full meal just aren't there.  The program serves 25 children and they are all categorized as being low-income and at-risk, a combination that no child should be a part of. The supervisor continued and stated that many of the families have food but it is just not the right food in pursuing a well rounded diet of grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, etc. Many of the families only have access and enough money for snack foods such as chips and cookies. This is a textbook example of food insecurity - a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members as well as limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.

This is where Feeding America Southwest Virginia steps to the plate with the help from the USDA in providing nutritious and whole meals to hundreds of children throughout the summer months. The meals vary and contains items such as chicken or tuna salad, sunflower seeds, apple sauce cups, crackers, beef and cheese sticks and much more. There is also a selection of juices such as grape, apple, orange and the all important dairy group covered with a white or chocolate milk. In every site that I have been to the kids point out items that they don't like such as tuna salad but then all of them are sure to find something that they really really enjoy, with big favorites being the sunflower seeds and beef stick. It's been a joy to see their faces when they talk of the food and hear that they are truly enjoying it!

The site supervisor shared her joy for the children with me through one simple story. She said that a couple years back there was a little girl and her mom had stopped in at the Community Youth Program. The girl was excited to find that she was getting a dinner and when she received it she turned to her mom and said, "Look mom! We won't have to worry about dinner tonight!" The supervisor said she had tears come to her eyes. 

Please feel free to comment and share your stories, whether they have to do with food insecurity or another cause that you feel passionate about or have volunteered with, the more awareness we put forth, the more change we create.

For more information on the Summer Food Service Program:

Catholic Heart Work Camp: Living through Service!

In the continuing theme of endless opportunities this summer, I had the chance to view service and collaboration in a fun and exciting light this past week! Feeding America Southwest Virginia hosted a group of 40 high school students with 5 adult chaperones through an organization called Catholic Heart Work Camp (CHWC). They set up mission trips at various cities all across the nation where students volunteer through building houses, landscaping, painting, and working at food banks or other nonprofit organizations. In addition to the volunteer work there is time for activities and games were the students learn more about their faith and grow in community with their new friends from all across the nation. The mission of the CHWC is, “To share the love of Christ as we serve the neglected, brokenhearted and the marginalized in any way needed. Equally, to inspire participants to live as disciples of Christ through serving others as a way of life; and to foster the Catholic Faith of each participant through the sacraments, prayer and involvement in social service (”
The students accurately displayed this mission in their time here by providing an essential service through examining and processing canned and boxed foods from retailers. In addition to food they also sorted through items from stores such as CVS Pharmacy, these items included medicine, diapers, toilet paper, hygiene and hair care products and more. Our goal is feeding people but we are also concerned in the whole well-being of those we serve and these personal care products go a long way in providing for the many needs that all of us attend to. 

In total, these students and adults sorted through almost 3 full semi-truck loads of food and other items. An incredible feat!

On the surface it was a spectacular display of a ton of work occurring in a short amount of time. But as you looked deeper you could see that there was a complex system of teamwork and collaboration taking place in and amongst the organizations and students. I spoke with one of the chaperones and she told me that she came with a large group of students from her church, Saint Eulalia Parish in Winchester, Massachusetts. They connected with CHWC who had connected with Feeding America Southwest Virginia in pursuing volunteer opportunities. In that simple chain of events the collaboration exploded, a church, mission trip organization, and food relief nonprofit working together to make a greater impact for many in southwest Virginia while also gaining new perspectives and changing their own lives.

The chaperone I spoke with described the week perfectly, she said, “It’s nonstop, positive, a lot of work, and a celebration. Everyone just comes together, its crazy!”

The theme of the trip for the week was Be Seen: Live Uncommon. They challenged themselves individually by going on the trip and I am sure throughout the week they saw significant growth in friendships, knowledge, and spirituality, all in pursuit of a life uncommon.

The Catholic Heart Work Camp students were hard at work every day they were here, they unloaded more boxes than we could keep track of! Their energy and zeal for service was incredible and it really charged up the atmosphere at the food bank for the week!

A group of the guys on the trip pile in for a picture with James Andrews (orange shirt), the Quality Assurance Coordinator here at Feeding America Southwest Virginia. James provides leadership in the warehouse and organizes the sorting and examining of food that comes into the food bank. He never misses an opportunity to snap a picture with volunteers!

During a lunch break I spoke to the group about my internship and the young lady on the far left asked me if I'd like to join them for their prayer and discussion time. I said, Sure! It was awesome to join in on the discussion and hear about their experiences; their passion for service and life was contagious! 

The students went through countless numbers of these huge boxes; organizing and examining food and other items is a team effort. The students worked well together in order to get a lot done, but most importantly they had fun! I am sure the time spent at FASWVA and with the Catholic Heart Work Camp will be something that they remember for the rest of their lives.

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives. -Jackie Robinson 

Thank you for all your help! You have all made a huge impact in the lives of so many in southwest Virginia. Good luck in everything you do and in all your future endeavors. Take risks and step out of your comfort zone any chance you get, that's where real life happens. Thanks again!

To the students and chaperones, when you view this as I hope many of you do, please comment and share your stories of the week! It would be awesome to have your accounts and thoughts of what took place over the week and it will help to provide for continual awareness of food insecurity issues all across our nation.

For information on Feeding America Southwest Virginia please check out our website!

Sharing the Wealth

Hunger in America 2014 Study at the Our Daily Bread Food Pantry at Austinville Pentecostal Holiness Church in Max Meadows, VA.

I tilted this post, "Share the Wealth", and I am sure many of you thought of money, cars, or large beautiful homes. I know that's where my mind goes when I hear the word wealth. But at a Hunger Study that I attended yesterday I experienced a different kind of wealth and it was amazing to see the gentle and kind heart behind the sharing that took place.

My first experience was with the Our Daily Food Pantry itself. They were well organized and had ample amount of space for lines and table space for filling out paperwork. They were friendly and made sure to welcome everyone who came through the door in addition to being polite and genuinely kind so that all of the clients and myself and the other intern were comfortable, and in essence happy to be there. But what really surprised me - what I thought was a great idea - is that the pantry had made sandwiches offered with chips and drink for clients and volunteers to enjoy throughout the food pantry distribution time. This small meal was perfect as the clients would go through the line and fill out the required paperwork and then there would be a longer wait to receive their food as it took time for the pantry staff and volunteers to sort and pack the boxes appropriately.

During that wait the clients were able to have a small meal and, of course, the food encouraged conversation and fellowship. It was great and it was incredible to see the pantry distributing the expected food and then also serving a meal! I saw this as sharing the wealth - it wasn't a large sum of money or nice car but just a small simple meal that was, in my view, perfect.

My second experience was a conversation with one of the clients, a middle-aged gentleman, who approached me and started talking about the sporadic weather that Virginia was getting this year. He continued and said that all of the rain as really helped his garden to grow which was exciting because he had that much more to eat! He said that he tends it really well and is always sure to pull the weeds and I could see why - the garden is essentially a part of his livelihood and a substantial food source for him. I was excited for him and I could see that he really enjoyed the fresh vegetables he grew. But then he said a few things that really struck a chord with me. He had an abundance of squash and cucumbers and had been giving them away. He even put a percentage on it and said that he was probably giving away 90% of his harvest. I told him that was incredible and he said that he enjoys giving most of it away and that many people in his community need the food and they love having the fresh produce.

This was kind of crazy to me. Here was a guy who was receiving assistance from a food pantry because he was food insecure and didn't have enough money to purchase enough for a month. He was hungry and doing the best he could with the food from a pantry and his garden but he also recognized the greater need in his community that others could benefit from his garden. He was helping out and sharing the wealth!

The view from the Our Daily Bread Food Pantry in Max Meadows, VA. It was a beautiful day and even better view! But with this beauty comes challenges. Many of our agency partners are in very rural areas of southwest Virginia, a very large geographic area, where people are spread out and quite a distance from both Salem and Abingdon where our distribution centers are located. This makes acquiring food for pantries in this region all the more difficult because of the all the miles that must be traveled for pick ups and deliveries. The logistics of providing food to the hungry of southwest Virginia are quite daunting. We are always looking for innovative ideas that can help us in our mission to feed the hungry so, please, let us know if you have any by commenting below!

This visit was very enjoyable and eye-opening for me and it really made me appreciate the work that Feeding America Southwest Virginia and its partner agencies are doing together, but I also saw a wonderful aspect in that any individual in any community can also create lasting and exponential change.

How can we do this better?

This morning I did some brainstorming with a fellow employee on programs and agency relations here at Feeding America Southwest Virginia. There was a simple question that kept coming up in my mind and I asked, is there a better way to help people who are struggling with food insecurity? The simple answer is sure, of course, there is always a better way to do something. In every aspect of our lives we are constantly thinking of ways to change things or to make them better. But expanding from that point we have to ask what are the ways and how can they be implemented? Below, I have explained the work behind Children's Programs and Agency Relations to provide you with an idea of how things are done here at the food bank. These are not exhaustive explanations but they do provide some light into the work that we do!

Children's Programs - Summer Food Service Program
This question has been in the back of my mind during every visit I make to a summer feeding site for children. We have a good program at Feeding America Southwest Virginia where we purchase food from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and then work to distribute that food to partnering sites in our service area such as the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, schools opening their doors for the summer, or churches and other faith-based organizations. The sites are trained to follow both our specific requirements and the USDA's that make sure the children get healthy food in a safe distribution location. The food is given to the children and they enjoy a nutritious and satisfying meal. After these steps are completed, Feeding America Southwest Virginia is then reimbursed by the USDA for the purchase of the meals. Through this process networks in the community are created and children are fed - it truly is a success. But is there a better way?

Agency Relations
Agency Relations is one of  five departments inside Feeding America Southwest Virginia. One of the main tasks of Agency Relations is to make contact with potential agencies whether they are food pantries, soup kitchens or homeless shelters - essentially anywhere where food can be distributed, prepared or served. After contact is made and all of the paperwork and training is completed the site becomes a "partner agency".  The other main task of Agency Relations is to work together with our partner agencies to ensure that distributions to the food insecure are handled safely and fairly and that information vital to the support of all our operations is collected, analyzed then shared with donors and advocates.  It is a constant flow of communication and service.  How can that relationship be improved?

Food Distribution
This aspect of programming is the core function of Feeding America Southwest Virginia.  FASWVA collects product from donors, other food banks and direct purchases then stores it at one of our two distribution centers. Product is then distributed to our partner agencies in the southwest Virginia area via pick-up or delivery. Partner agencies then distribute product to those who are food insecure in the community. Overall, the system works well and food is adequately distributed to those in need. But, again, we are always looking for better ways. One thing that I noticed during recent Hunger Study visits is that many pantries are located in the more urban areas. This occurs because there is a higher population density in large towns and cities. These urban pantries run at a small scale and serve anywhere from 50 - 100 people per week.

While watching these distributions I began to think then wonder if there was anyway that these small pantries - all located in one urban area - could partner with each other to form larger pantries. There could be a combining and sharing of  financial and human resources. Maybe this idea would work or maybe it wouldn't but it wouldn't hurt to explore it further. I am a big fan of collaboration and teamwork and always wonder if there are ways to integrate and combine resources to have a larger impact.

A Brain Exercise
Just below is an infographic that displays a problem. 70 billion pounds of food goes to waste each year in the United States. How can we lower this number? What are other ways we can use food instead of just throwing it away? What are your ideas for solving this problem?

All in all, I feel that the opportunities for improvement and change are endless. It does take time - there is conversation, planning, tests, studies, and surveys to figure out the best avenues for change. But many times we just need the ideas and then we can begin from there. Please share your ideas, whether for solving food insecurity or another problem. I'd love to hear them!

Find out more about Feeding America Southwest Virginia at:

Food Bank vs. Food Pantry

When I started with Feeding America Southwest Virginia I thought that a food bank and food pantry were the same thing. Both places store food and both give food to people in the community when they come in and visit, right? Wrong! They are very different and about the only thing that is similar is that they both deal with food and have the same mission of feeding food-insecure people.

Food Bank - Feeding America Southwest Virginia: the purpose of a food bank is to collect food in bulk via a network of hunger relief supporters then to distribute that food to the hungry through a network of dedicated partner agencies such food pantries, soup kitchens, rescue missions and children's programs throughout its service territory. A food bank is all about collecting large amounts of food and then working tirelessly to distribute that food into the greater community.

The Feeding America Southwest Virginia Salem Office building. This is where it all happens!

Feeding America Southwest Virginia-Salem Office warehouse. There is an estimated 75,000 sq. feet of space used for food storage. An impressive amount of space, but that's what is needed in order to distribute 22 million lbs. of food per year. 

Ryan Callanan, Food Resourcing Assistant at FASWVA. He works to gather food from retailers such as Kroger, Walmart, and Food Lion. These retailers are a valuable piece in the mission to feed the hungry.

Food Pantry - Presbyterian Community Center: the purpose of a food pantry is to collect food from food banks, food drives, and sometimes local retailers then they directly distribute the food to those in need. A food pantry may see anywhere from 20 - 300 people every day.  Recipients may come in to get food through a federally funded program such as SNAP; or they may be at the food pantry because, after having paid all of the bills, there isn't enough money left to buy enough food. To make up that shortfall, recipients will receive a box of food to supplement the needs of their families. This direct giving to the food-insecure is the main thing that separates a food bank from a food pantry. Instead of FASWVA opening up its doors everyday for people to come in and receive food they distribute it around a 26 county area to food pantries. This distribution method gets more food to more people over a wide geographic area.  Otherwise, everyone would have to drive (if they could) to Salem or Abingdon every day to get the food they need.

Presbyterian Community Center (PCC) is a partner agency. They operate a food pantry and have educational programs for students of all ages. They assist families and individuals living in the eastern quadrants of Roanoke City, eastern Roanoke County and the Town of Vinton. 

This is the food pantry at the Presbyterian Community Center. As you can see they have a much smaller amount of food than the FASWVA warehouse but are still able to serve a large amount of people.

I always used the words food bank and food pantry interchangeably because I honestly thought that they were the same thing because they both give food to the hungry. Indeed, they both feed the hungry but the way in which they go about it is very different. 

This difference and collaboration is the core strength in the Feeding America network.  It provides a nation-wide distribution system that efficiently moves donated, salvaged and purchased product to millions of food-insecure people every day.  From every day need to disaster level events - the Food Bank and its partner Food Pantries are always working together to fight hunger wherever it may be.

To learn more about food banks and food pantries please visit Feeding America Southwest Virginia website.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The End is Just the Beginning!

As I sit at my home in Ohio in preparation to go back to school I am shocked and can't believe that my summer and internship with Feeding America Southwest Virginia has come to an end. Throughout this time of reflection I have truly realized how blessed I was to have such a fruitful and incredible internship, and to meet wonderful people and make contacts, but not only are they contacts, but good and lifelong friends. 

Another benefit was the fact that I am studying Nonprofit Management at Ohio State and was able to apply my classroom knowledge to the field, in addition to taking the ideas and aspects that I learned this summer back to the classroom this fall. In that spirit I want to highlight for you a few things that I learned this summer.

1. Many problems can't be solved overnight. 
Nonprofits have problems and struggles that they must overcome and Feeding America Southwest Virginia has it's fair share. A few stuck out to me and were comprised of external communication with partners, employee education and development, internal organizational communication, and lack of funds and resources. I noticed them and became frustrated and wanted to immediately fix them but I soon realized after many conversations with staff that these problems may not be solved quickly and that many nonprofits or businesses for that matter have many more obstacles to overcome. It was enlightening and I have walked away from the experience with high hopes for FASWVA that they will solve these problems and will be all the better for it. It has also pushed me to continue to strive and provide solutions for the nonprofit sector as I will be pursuing a career next year.

2. Keep good records.
I really learned this one when the end of the month reports came around. These records are beneficial when applying for grants, year end reports to see the impact FASWVA made, and when audits come around. I had to fill out forms on how much time I spent towards certain projects, my mileage and places traveled, I had to tally numbers that kept track of meals for the summer feeding program, and the list goes on. I was annoyed and bogged down, but I realized that if I would have kept track of things throughout the month instead of trying to come up with everything at the end of the month things would have been much easier! 

3. Collaboration is awesome!
I am a real big fan of working in teams and seeing businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations working together to make a large impact in a community. I saw many needs for collaboration over the summer and I was constantly thinking of ways in which FASWVA could work together with another group or their agencies to improve food distribution, engage the community  and improve the summer food service program, or enhance the development department and bring in more funds. There were a few great examples of collaboration that I witnessed this summer, first in watching the Catholic Heart Work Camp group that helped out a ton this summer, and the Canstruction event. Both of these are explained in further detail in previous posts, CHWC and Canstruction . Also the Hunger Study interns, Chelsea MacCormack and Katie Romano, they worked seamlessly together and with agencies to successfully run the whole study. They went over and above their duties and truly showed how much more you can accomplish when you work together as a team than by yourself.

4. Step out of your comfort zone and be willing to always learn from others.
I tried so many new things this summer and I moved 6 hours away from home in order to have the internship. But it was all worth it and I would do it again in a heart beat. People are great and hold a wealth of knowledge, so engage them, talk with them, and serve and help them. Life provides endless opportunities and I've found that I have learned the most about myself and this world when I have dove headfirst into these opportunities looking for an adventure. 

I could go on and on and describe to you more of what I did this summer, from working with Summer Food Service Programs for children, helping with the Hunger in America 2014 study, reading and studying a fantastic book called Nonprofit Sustainability, to helping with planning for the Child and Adult Care Food Program, or simply meeting and hanging out with some wonderful people all over southwest Virginia. But I don't have to because many of these projects and adventures are described in previous posts, so please take another look and learn from them and I hope be inspired by the words I put down.

I want to thank my readers for without you I wouldn't have had a blog. So keep pressing on and I encourage you all to volunteer, serve, and look and come up with solutions for the many social problems that plague our world. One simple act can change a life. I am going to keep striving to help and I know that this internship has pushed me that much more, the end is just the beginning.

Monday, August 12, 2013

From Hope to Change

Part 2: Canstruction 
During my time in learning more about Canstruction with Lora J. Katz, AIA, partner with Gilliam Katz Architecture & Design  I asked her a couple of more questions, more personal this time. I asked, what brought about your passion for service and the willingness to help others and why do you look to better your community?

These questions struck a chord within her heart, as I could see the passion flowing from her answer and stories she shared. She said that she grew up in a home where service was emphasized. Her father worked hard and provided for his family but didn't want to be involved in service to his community. But she explained that her mother had a very different view, she made sure to serve and she knew that it helped and changed people's lives. Her mother encouraged her to get out there and help people so Lora did all that she could to make a difference and simply serve. This view has stuck with Lora ever since and she still makes time for service.

She continued and said, "That if you don't do it yourself then it may not get done." She has seen plenty of needs in her community and she has ultimately recognized that she needs to step up to the plate and help, because if she doesn't then who else will. In these aspirations though, she also recognized the importance of bringing others along with her to create change in the community. It's the old adage that with a team you can accomplish so much more than what you can do alone.  It was incredible and encouraging to see her zeal for service, especially coming from an experienced professional who may not have the time to do much else besides work and attend meetings.

We then started to branch off and talk about the needs that are so evident in our communities, whether poverty, abuse, or food insecurity. Ms. Katz led with a story. During the winter she was touring a school with the principal to provide ideas on future designs and renovations for the building, when suddenly a little boy ran up. There were rumors going around that there may not be school the next day due to a incoming snow storm, he asked the principal to make sure. The principal assured the boy and said by the looks of things that there wouldn't be school. But this wasn't the answer that the little boy was looking for, he immediately had a frown on his face and exclaimed, "I won't have anything to eat then tomorrow."

By this time Ms. Katz had teared up and she was working to hold back more tears, she apologized for being emotional. But I praised her and said that her tears were encouraging and her heart for those in need was so big and so full of hope for continued change in our world. She was working hard and doing the best that she could to serve her community of Roanoke, VA and I know for certain that she will never slow down in her pursuit for a better world. I also know that this mindset is present in myself and many others and that brings me a hope that I am sure will transform itself into change.