Thursday, February 5, 2015

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:

1 comment:

  1. It always bothers me how much food really is thrown out, especially in my own home. What if an initiative for compost systems was started: where your old food and such go into the compost and then the compost then can be collected by the state to use as soil for growing crops? I really have no idea how long things take to compost, but the concept is to extend the life of leftover food by giving leftovers a chance to give new life to new food! I don't know, just a thought.

    Plus, we should all learn how to grow our own food too! I need to take that to heart!