Food Pantries with Case Management build both Measurable Food Security and Self-Sufficiency

Some of the themes that have been bubbling up in recent posts have concerned food banks searching for ways to impact client’s lives for the longer term, and then how we might be able to measure that improved food security and self-sufficiency.

This week I am looking into the success of the Freshplace pantry in Connecticut, a collaboration between three community organizations: Foodshare, the regional food bank, the Chrysalis Center, which is a social service agency, and the Junior League of Harford, a volunteer organization.  The difference between Freshplace and traditional food pantries is that Freshplace members meet with a Project Manager during their first visit, and then monthly, to discuss and set goals for becoming food secure and self-sufficient. Clients come up with their own goals that they want to work on, which are not imposed by the Project Manager. Nutrition education and a Cooking Matters course are also offered to memebers.

This program has benefitted from having an ongoing evaluation from its inception by a team from the University of Connecticut’s, Institute for Clinical and Translational Science headed up by Katie Martin PhD from the Department of Allied Health Sciences. Katie’s research background is in food security, community food security work, and food assistance programs.

Downloads are available here with the top level Freshplace Research Update as well as a Case Management in Food Pantries Research Brief. I spoke with both Katie and later with Foodshare’s CEO, Gloria McAdam to see what practices or ideas we could take from Freshplace.

 
Katie Martin

Katie, tell me how you came to be involved with the Freshplace project

They had been working for a few years on the notion of a food pantry that could address some of the underlying issues of poverty that were creating the need for food. I talked to them about evaluating this program and in 2009 I joined their advisory group, strategic planning group as we were concurrently developing the program and the evaluation.  Freshplace opened in July of 2010, and right from the beginning we’ve been conducting a randomized control trial of Freshplace where we recruit people from regular food pantries because we want to see how this intervention compares to these other traditional pantries. We randomized 100 into each group and have been tracking the same 200+ people for over a year now and will conclude our 18 month data collection in December.

What has the Freshplace group shown versus the control group in terms of effect on improving food security?

We’re in a very poor neighborhood in a poor city (Hartford) and half of all of the people we began the study with were experiencing significant hunger, cutting back the size of their meals or skipping meals because there isn’t enough food.

The bit the Hartford Tourist Board want you to see.

Over the year, Freshplace members were half as likely to remain in that category. We’ve seen increased food security and also increased self-sufficiency, which are both significantly higher than in the control group.

In the area of diet quality we’ve also seen significant improvement in fruit and vegetable consumption.

The one real challenge area is that we haven’t seen real declines in consumption of fat from snack and other unhealthy food. That means we still have some work to do.

How do you measure these areas?

We have been looking at three main outcomes:

FOOD SECURITY – For which we use the USDA food security module with its 18 questions,

SELF-SUFFICIENCY – For which we have been using the Missouri Self-Sufficiency Scale, which measures changes for 10 different indicators including income, employment, education, housing, transportation, physical health, mental health, child care.

QUALITY OF DIET – The consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber and also fat and snacks. For this, we’re using the Block food frequency questionnaire.

So, tell me a little more about Freshplace in action.

Clients can attend twice a month for food and once a month to meet with a project manager to discuss what areas they are interested in working on. Those goals are then reviewed in a supportive way.

That’s always kind of been an issue in terms of us demonstrating what we’re doing is improving food security because of the limited amount of a person’s total diet that is derived from a pantry’s food. The other unknown has been that we don’t really know how many different sites people are attending.  How did you deal with that in your study?

In our population, people are going chronically to different food pantries on average two to three times per week averaging up to four different pantry providers accessed every month.  I think a key piece that I think you write about beautifully in your blog is the notion of how food banks around the country are now starting to question how much longer they are going to be able to increase poundage and numbers of people served without significantly investing in preventative measures – whether health and nutrition education and empowerment  or the advocacy to change things. I’ve argued for a long time that hunger is about more than just food and that I think the data that we see nationally and we’re seeing at Freshplace is that even when people are going to multiple food pantries multiple times a week and they’re getting food and they know the system of how to engage in it to the best of their abilities, that it is still not enough to increase their food security. This is reflected by our food insecurity rates nationally really remaining untouched.  I think it’s time for a different way of approaching this issue.

What is the specific model of case management that they are using?

It’s based on the Stages of Change approach, coupled with motivational interviewing.

The idea is that we’re not telling folks the changes that they need to make, but working with them to determine what issues are most important in their life and what are the potential barriers that they encounter that are holding them back from reaching those goals. This type of model is used in some other types of work like HIV prevention, in trying to encourage people to have safe sex using that type of motivation and behavior change model.  We actually did a little bit of research through Foodshare of all of the partner agencies that receive food from the food bank to ask them whether they were providing case management in their pantry and what specific other services they provide just to get a handle on how unique or not unique Freshplace might be within the bigger field.  About half of the food pantries that responded said that they did offer some kind of case management, half did not.  But of the half who said they did, very few of them actually meet monthly and do a follow up. Most consider case management as giving a referral or a brochure with some other type of information.  This isn’t enough. A good Project Manager can be empowering when using motivational interviewing and in recognizing that people go through stages in their readiness to make changes in their life.  If we can engage in a relationship with clients where they trust us, we can have a dialogue where they know they’re coming back in a month and we’re going to do a follow-up with them and ask how they’re doing and what their issues are.

Obviously the food is an excellent motivator for people to return for the monthly interview, but how do people reach the point where they’re food secure enough to exit the program, or would anyone want to leave and turn down free food?

We always knew that we didn’t want this program to be another dependency program where people would stay on it for years.  We wanted this to be something that we could help give people a hand up and that they would want to and be able to move on. We spent some time really deciding what graduation from the program really means and giving clearer expectations so that when people come to Freshplace, they know from the beginning that there are expectations that we will offer a lot of support and services and programs, but you need to want this too so we’re going to meet with you and make sure that you’re making changes.  If you’re really just coming for the food, then I think right now we give maybe three to six months of that time to really monitor are they not making any progress towards their goals and if not, if they’re really just coming for the food, then there are other food pantries in the community that offer that.  So they’ll be discharged to allow other people to join the program.

There is currently a lively debate in the broader non-profit world about focusing all our attention on those who are able to improve and change their lives, because they are the ones that can deliver us the metrics of success that funders want. In the food banking arena, this would be ensuring the continued ability to feed all people; those with mental illness or who just can’t provide for themselves.  I think it is key to build in some avenue out for those who can’t or won’t or who are simply not ready to take on this wider change element. They would still be served to the best of our care and ability, but we wouldn’t waste their time and our money on these particular types of intervention resources.

Yes. I think we face a dichotomy in our country about the issue of hunger. When I describe the work that I do, people will often say, “We’ll always have hunger.”  Even though people don’t like the idea of people going hungry, there’s also this kind of acceptance that there will always be people in need. Now there are definitely those who fit into the category you just described, say those facing severe substance abuse, mental health issues, engrained generational poverty who need traditional food bank services.  But I would argue on the other side nationally there are millions of Americans right now who are food insecure and not sure how they are going to feed their family at the end of the week or the end of the month and I feel very uncomfortable with accepting that. I think from the bottom up we need to work with people and empower them and build those relationships so they can be ready to make changes, but from the top down we need to ensure that in our country that if people are trying their best to get a job or are working one or two jobs, they should be able to have a living wage where they should be able to go out and afford enough food for their family.

So this expanded group of Americans who are benefitting from our services, the 1 in 6. Aren’t a lot of this new group added by the recession able to look after themselves and might find the case management approach patronizing and disempowering? They might think that they just need a break or a few more hours work or a few more benefits. Can this group really benefit from the Freshplace approach?

I think they can. Those who have fallen on hard times need more than a bag of food. They need the ongoing support and link to a range of services rather than just short term food security. We can help them build their job skills to get a better job, and they can help us in our advocacy work to press for the policy changes that will help them long term.

With our own programs we’ve initially kept close to schools basically because that’s a place whereby we can tap into deeper more long term relationships with clients and build what we call their food literacy. However we’re now looking more closely at the thinking behind and impact of our more classic types of distribution. I think in the past the philosophy was to find a poor part of town and carpet-bomb the area with cans of food, hoping that this ‘shotgun’ approach would hit the right people and improve their lives. We did serve a bunch of people who really needed the help, and some who really didn’t need the help but weren’t foolish enough to turn down some free food. We certainly did little to change the long term health or prospects of either group. Do you think it is important to transition away from these traditional mass distributions? I mean it’s not like we have as much food available to us as we used to.

I think you’re right that so often we look at low income communities and say there’s so much need, there’s so much poverty, there’s so many problems we kind of throw our hands up and just say, “Well, let’s just provide food.”  I think a different approach is sorely needed, which says that these are communities that have assets and rich human and social capital, which If tapped, can do amazing things. We need to work with folks to find out why they’re struggling so much.  What are the barriers in their lives?  Again, it takes more time than simply giving food. And I think often Americans like the quick fixes.  Programs like Bridges out of Poverty (Watch out for an upcoming post on their work) are enabling people to really self-investigate what are the issues that are holding them back in their lives. But to truly be most successful, this requires the community as a whole to say ‘how do we look at the issue of poverty in our community and how are we all involved?’  That addresses employers and schools and the bigger picture which impacts all of us. Otherwise we will stick to our quick fixes and continue to spin our wheels.

Traditional food banking makes us feel great about charitable giving, but we’re not making an impact on food security or self-sufficiency or diet quality. That’s why Freshplace offers a different model, that if we can analyze it and find out what’s really working and how we can replicate it, then it could provide an avenue for a longer term approach to dealing with hunger. Clearly, this model is not going to be feasible for every food pantry. They might serve 500 people in a week, how could they possibly provide case management for 500 people in a week?  And I would say, you won’t, but I think that you could target a small segment of that group that you feel would be most ready to make these changes or people who would like to get off of that food pantry line. You could work with them and monitor their changes over time, so you would have that longitudinal data and with the expectation that hopefully six months from now they’re no longer in that food pantry line.

Some food banks may have the financial resources to hire a case manager and deal with issues that aren’t necessarily food related.  The challenge for other food banks is, ‘how do I partner with other organizations that have these skills or specialty to really provide a range of services that cover more of the spectrum of issues covered by the Self-Sufficiency screener?’  What kind of models do you think would work for that partnership?

My interest is in translational research, making sure that things are meaningful on the ground. An academic study is not as much use if other people can’t use this information.  One of the things that we did with Freshplace is to partner with the social work program at the University of Connecticut with the idea that many communities that already have food banks often probably will have some university or college setting that would have a social work program and those social work students need hours in the field of working.  They need that expertise and experience so that can be a way.  We’ve had two women who’ve come through the social work program who’ve worked with the paid case manager through Freshplace who are getting their hours towards their degree and I think that’s a model that other communities could use to partner with other existing programs in their area that wouldn’t necessarily require a lot of funding.

I then spoke with Gloria McAdam, CEO of Foodshare.

Gloria J. McAdam

Gloria, the results from Fresh Place are looking very promising. I understand that you are aiming to scale the program – are you just planning on providing your own case managers or cooperating with other nonprofits.

Our original vision with the Freshplace model was to be able to replicate it throughout our service area.  For example, in the City of Hartford, which is only 17 square miles, there are currently around 90 food pantries.  Since most of these pantries give out meager amounts of food and offer no other services, this structure forces clients to go from one pantry to another, just to put food on the table.  We believe that a much smaller number of pantries, probably 10-15, who operate on the larger scale that Freshplace does and provides these additional services, could serve people much more effectively.

We could do a better job of getting people the food they need for sustenance as well as providing additional services and supports that would move those families toward self-sufficiency.  Our next step with this project is a replication manual and to start identifying new partners for expansion.

In addition, we are considering the idea of hiring a case manager on Foodshare’s payroll who would rotate among a few smaller agencies to test whether case management can also work in smaller food pantries.  We are just in the thought phase of this idea – what would it look like, what would it cost, which agencies might be interested and where would the funds come from.

That’s great work Gloria, thanks to you and Katie for sharing and keep us informed as things progress.

Avoiding the Jesus Complex: I just fed the 5000, and now you want to know what the outcomes were!?

Everyone admired how the ED lived the mission, though some felt that by going around with an empty bowl superglued to the side of his head, that he was taking things a little far.

This week’s blog entry is not concerned with some nitty-gritty issue of service delivery, but more with the assumptions behind why we do what we do.

Relax, this is not navel gazing for the sake of it.

I think these assumptions impact our ability to truly succeed at our mission of ending food insecurity and poor nutrition in America. Wouldn’t it be great if future generations could look back at ‘hunger’ and laugh scornfully (in that way that future generations do) about how in such a wealthy nation we were so wasteful and primitive in how we attended to the basic nutrition of all our people.

Dan Flowers, CEO, Akron-Canton Area Foodbank, winners of the 2012 Food Bank of the Year Award. Congratulations, Dan. Now give Santorum back his sweater vest…

Let’s start by considering an email from Akron and Canton Foodbank CEO, Dan Flowers, sent around a couple of weeks back. With Dan’s permission, I am including an excerpt from his email. He writes:

Although I am 100% into doing everything we can to leverage our resources toward making lasting, measurable solutions and transformation possible for people, the “donor outcomes” push I sense does not entirely resonate with me and I’m not totally sure why.  Maybe it’s because I’ve heard a lot of “what are you doing to get these people to start taking care of themselves” statements appear along similar philosophical lines.  I don’t judge either way.

 We do so many good things that we can measure and share.  I agree we need to get better at both because there are a lot of people in a position to help that simply framing what we already believe and do in new and better ways can enroll.  So we need to do that.  Let’s talk about nutrition and public health, self-sufficiency and personal development.  Let’s measure our impact in moving people in those directions…because we’ve been more or less doing that since day one and refining and sharing that can only help the cause.

 In this, sometimes I wonder when “teach a man to fish” became the ultimate measurement of our duty, compassion, and obligation to people…when “give a man a fish” generally seems so much more noble, loving, and welcomed as I see it.  Simply suggesting that I’m a “give the man a fish” advocate freaks people out these days.  Or at least we don’t like to talk about the millions of American’s who simply need a fish…and always will.

My post is not really a response to Dan’s email, as I can’t really disagree with anything he says there. However it did get me thinking about some issues under the surface of what we do.

Certainly as organizations we are under pressure to prove the benefits of what we are doing like never before. I kind of like being challenged, it keeps me awake, but this is still a shock for many of us. We have been so used to no one questioning the basis of what we do – feeding people – that we almost don’t know how to respond effectively when they do. It can also bring out a righteous side to us, making us feel there might be something uncaring about someone who would dare question our activities, or judge us by conventional markers of business or organizational success.

I think my early experiences in the hunger arena, feeding the homeless, allowed me to clearly see the extremes of positive and negative response to what we were doing. Reactions to the homeless range from repulsion, to causing well-meaning folks to want to smother them with love, to evoking visceral feelings of fear of the ‘I’m just a couple of paychecks away from that’ variety. Yes, homeless people push all the buttons.

Working with them, I had so many people tell me that I was doing God’s work, that I began to agree with them. Of course logically, this meant that if people created obstacles to our organization’s success…then they weren’t doing God’s work. Maybe they were doing the devil’s work (but hey, let’s leave the public health inspectors out of this – just kidding).

Many of our volunteer groups were from churches (and indeed the majority of our member agencies at the Foodbank are faith-based). Faith swirls around the area of hunger deeper than most others. Every faith group has their tenet connected to feeding the hungry. As a practicing Buddhist Episcopalian (yes it is a legit mash-up) I could clearly see that I was beginning to suffer a little bit from a Jesus complex. Not so much on a personal level, because it was hard to stay unaware of my numerous shortcomings, but on an organizational level. I have to say that I come up against this a fair bit with some other non-profit organizations, even those that are not explicitly religious in their intent. We are good hearted people doing good hearted things. How can you question us?

Jesus networking with the people.

What would Jesus do if they wanted to measure his outcomes not his outputs? Would he flip over the money lender’s table in front of the temple or would he sit down at the table, push forward his business card, and talk organizational symmetry with some potential corporate donors to the cause? His Powerpoint might show that his nonprofit has been meeting his numbers by feeding the five thousand every day. “You want the water turned into wine? We have a processing kitchen that’s got that covered, and it’s creating sustainable jobs too!”

But the righteous approach only gets us so far. I started this blogging journey because I seriously questioned whether the food bank network is really geared up to solve the issue of hunger and whether we truly believe in our hearts that it is possible. This has led me to believe that more of the same is a road to nowhere, and that a new direction is required. Too many things are changing, both in the quantity and nature of the food we are receiving and the environment we are delivering service in.

Foodbanks: “The World’s Biggest Gainers”

A big part of the problem is the food bank network’s inability to measure success in achieving our goal. It is great to put more and more pounds of food out there (if it is not pounds of soda and junk, of course) but where is it leading? If our goal is to get people out of food insecurity, aren’t those figures the ones we should be judged on? In my time in food banking, I have never heard a food bank crowing about its successes in terms of number of people who no longer need their services. Is it modesty? (from a group of admittedly charming and modest professionals) Or is it because people are afraid that if they say there are less mouths to feed then their fundraising and grants will get cut?

Ouch!

Sorry, but this seems a pretty basic issue. This is one reason why I am so insistent on moving us in the preventative healthcare direction. If our success can be measured around moving people to health, then this is a long-term and ongoing goal that will not go away. (The funding doesn’t have to go away when a recession does – heck there might even be more funding available). This means we are investing in health, not investing in circling around the same old broken ‘hunger gap’ environment.

I want and need charitable dollars for my organization, but I also need healthcare dollars. These dollars represent a very shrewd investment in the ‘people infrastructure’ of the nation. Hey, I just coined another bullshit phrase for the social sector! People infrastructure.

What I mean by this is the human equivalent of the roads and bridges that keep things moving. We can’t keep the people moving and running to maximum capacity unless they are nutritionally healthy. More and more studies are showing that the food which people consume is the number one issue. Exercise is important, but not as important by itself as originally suspected. So food banks find themselves at ground zero of being able to change the health of the nation. We can’t fumble such an opportunity, because it may not come back again.

As Dan points out in his email, there will always be those who will just need a fish – seniors living alone or incapacitated, those wrestling with mental conditions, or a crippled sense of self or even those who want to tell us to take our education and empowerment, fold it five times and stick it where the sun don’t shine. (I am pretty fond of this last group. It suggests an unbroken spirit.) It is just as important to provide food for these clients as it is for those who want to engage in a deeper way with us.

Maybe they should reconsider the whole choice pantry thing, it’s kind of slowing down the line.

Nevertheless, I still believe that virtually everyone can benefit from more than a bag of groceries and a caring word. Most people want to be engaged with, and for their world to crack open and widen, in however small a way. So attaching food distribution to wrap-around services where clients can have the chance to be engaged in another way are essential. I am not just talking about the ‘work on your resume and get a job’ type programs. There can be an art program, a music program. Anything to spark the engine or keep an overloaded engine running. Clients don’t have to accept anything other than food, but I think we lessen our commitment to the value of their lives if we don’t offer it.

It is my honest belief that people walk away from a food distribution (no matter how kind the people running it are) having been disempowered in some way. Our food banks have some programs run by kind volunteers who want to show love and support to recipients and some programs run by cranky volunteers who want to make recipients feel small – yet I think the long-term result is exactly the same. The love that clients get from being cared for in a charitable way is gone even quicker than the bag of food they leave with. They are also left feeling a little less able to look after themselves. (Not everyone feels this way, of course. If you are a senior who has given a lot to the community, you feel pretty justified in receiving whatever small amounts of food can be given in return.)

Dan refers to (presumably) potential donors who talk of ‘these people’ in a disparaging way and want to get rid of them or hide them away. The ‘Them and Us.’

This sort of thing has been going on for a very long time…

But who cares what these people say, because they aren’t really interested in helping us. The thing we have to watch out for is that we are not labeling clients in what amounts to merely a mirror version of that same reductionist approach. Instead of ‘these’ people, we instead have ‘those’ people who can’t look after themselves. I had a conversation with one food bank Executive Director, who was down on the concept of teaching clients to grow some of their own food. This person’s attitude was that ‘poor’ people already have enough to do, and that we were burdening them by shifting the responsibility onto them to come up with more food themselves.

Absolutely.

Our ‘Grow Your Own Way’ program (Spanish Remix)

Because it’s fun, because it generates personal and family energy as well as food. It gives you a stake in your own little food chain rather than being told to pull up your bootstraps from one side or receive the well meaning but transitory hand-out from the other side. So I welcome all the ‘teaching a man to fish’ stuff. It is vital.

I don’t think we can only pull the ‘you should support us because you’re human and we are all human’ card. We clearly haven’t ended hunger by taking the approaches that we have. We want to appeal to people’s emotions and their intellect. One alone gets us nowhere. Winning both is what is going to help us get out of this godforsaken hunger loop.

Are Non-Profits afraid of Competition? How can we tackle the root causes of hunger in America? Tough Questions from a Community Grantmaker – A dialogue with Mari Ellen R. Loijens, CFRE.

Mari Ellen Loijens

Is there a life after food banking? Apparently so. Mari Ellen Loijens worked in development for Second Harvest Foodbank in Santa Clara and San Mateo County from 2000 to 2004, and is now the Chief Philanthropic Development and Information Officer for the Silicon Valley Foundation.

Of course it is every fundraising professional’s secret fantasy to then go on to work at a foundation and give it away rather than have beg for it. (Without appreciating the challenges that go with such a responsibility). So what’s the difference between your time in the food bank looking out, and outside the food bank looking in?

When I was at the food bank, the needs were constantly growing. There was no single year where we had to feed less people than the year before, and I had a strong sense of urgency about the growing need. Now that I’m outside, it seems like it’s endless and I’m more anxious for real solutions to the issue.  It’s sort of like being an emergency room doctor, and your concern is how to bandage all the wounds for those who need immediate assistance. Then when you walk outside the emergency room, you think, “How can we avoid the people going there in the first place?”

That’s a question a lot of food bankers are asking themselves. Like me, they’ve seen the capacity of food banks grow with their success at fund raising and their ability to bring more food in to their service area. This has created more ongoing demand, so it’s kind of a spiral.  How do you think that food banks could get out of this demand spiral and move towards a long-term solution?

We really need to look at some policy changes.  We are a very wealthy nation and the notion that we have so many people who turn to others for such a basic need is troubling.  Clearly there is something wrong with a system in which many children go to school hungry.

Food banks and other nonprofits are always very reluctant about stepping into these waters, because they worry about offending donors whose political slant may lead them to believe that we are just ‘enabling’ people.  How can we navigate these waters?

Want to dip your toe in…

I think that the problem is that we focus too narrowly on just food.  If you only think, “I need to feed people,” and you think, “That’s my only issue,” then we’re back to the doctor in the emergency room who would be saying: “I’m trying to get people to stop bleeding, and it’s so expensive to keep using up all these wound dressings. So the solution is that we need more money for more wound dressings.”  It’s a symptom he’s dealing with, not the cause. In the same way, hunger is the not cause, it is the symptom of a greater problem in our system. This comes down to something like minimum wage.  Do we have a living wage?  Are people able to earn enough where they live in order to take care of something as basic as food and shelter? We have got to move beyond pushing for increased SNAP (food stamp) benefits and into the bigger issues like: How do we make sure people, who are able, can earn enough money to feed themselves and their families?

So, are you saying that hunger is a symptom of the condition of poverty, or of something else?

I think poverty itself is also a symptom. I’m not a socialist or a communist. I don’t believe that everyone should make the same money, but I do believe that Americans, if asked, would say it’s wrong to have a system which forces people to constantly be in abject  poverty and unable to get out of it, even if they are working hard, perhaps at multiple jobs.  At some point, we are going to have to make decisions about how we pay for our beliefs and values. In the same way we are asked to make tough decisions now about taxes and how we want to pay for the things that we believe our country needs, such as roads or to provide the fire and police services that we want. In the same way, we have to ask ourselves the question: if we think it’s wrong for a child in a developing country to make a dollar a day sewing t-shirts, how are we going to provide an adequate minimum wage so that people in America who work a whole day can feed themselves and provide at the most basic level for their families?

And so how do you see the situation in America now?

I think we have an unspoken social contract in this country which prevents people from moving up out of poverty, and much of that is as a result of not have a living wage in most places.  We also do not have systems in place that update the minimum wage as the cost of living modifies in an area.  The systems that we do have reward the wealthy and do not help the poor.  This means we have to really look at our whole social contract as a country and our value system and say, “Have we set in place laws that support the values that we claim are American?”

Bumper sticker seen outside Santa Barbara’s swankest hotel.

This is the point in the conversation where people begin to squabble about the meaning of the ‘American Dream.’ I see an unspoken fear in many donors I talk to. I would preface my comments by pointing out that these donors are caring and generous people who sincerely want to ‘pay it back’ and provide some level of support for those in need within their communities. However, they may have a voice deep within them, that reminds them how hard they had to struggle and sacrifice to get where they are, so why should they make it easy for someone else? They often don’t see the incredible daily sacrifices and struggles of those in poverty who can find no success story on the back of their struggle.

Whatever the sentiment, Uncle Sam gets pressed into service to wag that finger.

This is why food banks have been so successful, because there is a lot of interest in ameliorating the symptoms but a deep fear of taking the plunge to actually deal with the causes. Either donors are concerned that they will be heavily taxed and lose what they worked for, or they fear that the fabric of American society will change and everyone will expect things to be provided for them without working for them. Consequently they see America losing its ‘can do’ spirit of entrepreneurship and resourcefulness. The type of change that is required to actually deal with a problem is too scary. The same thing is true for issues of immigration, health care and the rest of the sad litany. This means we have to stand around with our hands tied or else harken back to some previous time in our country’s history where these problems were better hidden.

I think a new consensus for action needs to arise that returns the much-loved but threadbare teddy bears of left and right political philosophy to the nursery shelf, and for us to admit that we have grown out of them. They’ll always have a fond place in our heart they were both great in key moments at getting us to the point we are now at as a nation, but now they are getting in the way as our nation enters maturity. These security blankets are getting under foot and gridlocking our ability to do what we do best as Americans – which is to fix something in a no-nonsense straight-forward way.

“I’ve been manhandled so much, I don’t remember whether I’m Republican or Democrat.”

I know from over a decade of working to assist either the homeless or the struggling, that the amount of people sitting on their gluteus maximus and freeloading their way from society (amongst poor people, anyway) is absolutely tiny, just as the amount of people defrauding SNAP benefits is a minuscule amount in relation to the total. Are we going to allow an obsession with preventing the enabling of a few who don’t want to help themselves hold us back from making huge achievements as a country for the vast majority of Americans who work so incredibly hard?

Sounds great, we should import that stuff to America! (Cheaply, of course)

Can you imagine what greatness we could achieve as a nation if we weren’t all so consumed with fear about being able to get affordable medical help, or that we will be living in abject poverty as senior citizens? Modern free market economies are driven by so much advertising and marketing, that are showing people all the things they need to have in their lives to be happy. These forces provide a huge encouragement for people to produce more and earn more. If we can provide a counter-balancing support safety net for all Americans, it won’t extinguish this desire for more – which is equally part of the American temperament. The two can complement each other perfectly well. It’s not exactly a shining city on a hill, but it’s a workable system where we can all move forward at our own pace and to our own ability.

Forgive me for that. As a food banker, if you see a pile of pallets, then your natural inclination is to climb on top of them and start spouting off…

That’s quite all right, Erik. Keep breathing. Seriously, though, I think food banks need to get get braver about legislation. You need to move past the daily problem of feeding people, and start to collaborate with others that can focus on solutions and really start to ask the difficult questions of, “What’s the issue?”  Yet for reasons that you mentioned, like when you referred to SNAP fraud, I think food banks are very afraid sometimes of moving in that area, because if you did a survey of people you feed and even one person said, “Well because I don’t feel like working.”  That’s a terrible, terrible fear of food banks. Suddenly, no one might want to fund their food bank, because there is one person whose is working the system. So essentially, we are ready to punish and live in fear of that one person.  Well, there is always going to be someone working the system.  There are people who go to emergency rooms, because they don’t feel like paying for a doctor. We absolutely can’t set up systems to deal with that one person. We look at the big issues in our country like educations reform and how healthcare reform and you hear about those things all the time. I would love to hear our country talk about poverty reform.  How we are going to help make a sweep of changes that would impact the base line of our country and help bring people who are essentially stuck because it’s impossible to move on or move out.

So, who do you think are the right people to lead this movement or does it need to come from a ground swell at a local level?  

I think both. That is how the civil rights movement happened.  You start with that real grass roots movement from people who are experiencing the issues and people who support those people.  Then at some point you get the attention of people in a power position with legislation to be able to move those issues forward.

You mentioned that food banks are timid on the public policy front.  What else do you think food banks could do to make this happen? 

Well, I really like the ideas espoused in your blog about how your food bank is working on regarding entering the preventative healthcare arena. I do think that when you start to see yourself as part of a wider system rather than just an individual issue, then you are able to address bigger issues that have bigger impact. Poverty is not the root cause.  People became poor for a reason. The fact that they are poor is not the issue.  The fact that they became poor and can’t get out of being poor is the issue.

This requires food banks to build broad coalitions with other social service agencies in their service areas, some who may be member agencies and some who may not.

That is a challenge, because there is often reluctance for everyone to sit down and have a substantive dialogue about how do we move things forward?  The subtext from non profit leaders can often be: “I don’t really want to be in a room with them.  I don’t want to compete with them.”

Hey, you’ve been in some of the same rooms as me!

That’s the truth about a lot of nonprofits is they’re just completely uncomfortable with the idea of competition, and if I had the answer to this issue, I’d probably be able to save the world.

Nothing wrong with a little friendly competition.

Well, we’re non profits. Competition is way too business-like and vulgar for us, right?

Yes, you’re very sensitive souls. But, it has to start with non profits admitting it is an issue. Then I think, speaking as a funder, that there is a clear role for funders in facilitating this issue. I think it’s all power dynamics. The one with the power has the obligation. Foundations really have the obligation to reach out to the nonprofits and say, “I really want to know and I really want to understand what’s going on.  Why is this collaboration and conversation not working for you? Where they don’t have to sit in front of their competitor and say what their fears are. We can ask who would you want to collaborate with and how, on what terms?”  I think having an honest dialogue is what moves things forward. This sort of thing needs to occur one on one or in small groups. Large gatherings can neutralize everyone’s desire to make anything happen.

I think what you say about the competition angle is very interesting, because it’s kind of taboo to talk about nonprofits competing. To be a good non profit citizen, you can only talk in the language of shared impact and collaboration. It might be very liberating for people to also have a conversation about competition and to say it is absolutely all right. I presume there is fear that we would be acknowledging duplication of service if we acknowledged competition. Certainly something for people to consider starting a discussion about in their service area.

How do you think food banks and other human services and nonprofit should be thinking about evolving their funding streams over the next few years?

I think if you are looking for systems change, at some point that goes against the grain for sustainability, right?  You want to be working towards your services not being needed anymore. The ideal is that you want to be able to talk about what system changes are you creating, so that you should have to provide fewer and fewer services every year?  That should be the big boast.  “Last year we fed 200,000 people, but this year, thanks to our hard work, we only have to feed 150,000.”

But every nonprofit organization in the world is afraid to do that, because then they assume that the funders will come back and say, “Oh, you need less money this year.”  And so the organization declines.

I think that there is a new generation of funders that have a very different way of thinking, and that what people really want to see are problems solved.  People are tired of the same problems staying around for generations and generations.  You’re right, though. Every nonprofit I know like to boast about how they did even more; served even more. It is a treadmill. But this new generation of funders comes from a very different way of thinking that would say: “No, no, no. The metric I care about is not how many people you serve, but that you made systemic changes so you will have to feed fewer people moving forward.“ It is a way for your organization to evolve to be truer to its mission.

Mari Ellen, thanks so much for your ideas and for your work supporting non profits.

Divided We Stand? Facing the challenges of Collective Impact, Corporate Philanthropy, Earned Income and more – A dialogue with Jan Masaoka, ED of CALNonprofits.

Jan Masaoka

Jan Masaoka is a leading writer and thinker on nonprofit organizations with particular emphasis on boards of directors, business planning, and the role of nonprofits in society. She has recently assumed the mantle of Executive Director of the California Association of Nonprofits. (CalNonprofits).

She is Editor-in-Chief of Blue Avocadothe essential online nonprofit magazine with an amazing 63,000 subscribers. For 14 years she was executive director of CompassPoint Non-profit Services (www.compasspoint.org), a consulting and training firm for nonprofits based in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

She is an eight time designee as one of the “Fifty Most Influential People” in the nonprofit sector nationwide. Her recent book with Jeanne Bell and Steve Zimmerman, Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability, (Jossey-Bass, 2010) has quickly become a vital tool for nonprofits to truly assess the financial impact of their range of activities. (I will explore the teachings of the book in another post.) My conversation with her was an opportunity to revel in her rich experience and take-no-prisoners plain talking. This makes everything she says not so much a condemnation of how things are, but an invitation to question, question, question. And we can’t have enough of that.

Jan, you are new in your position at CalNonprofits, yet already you are involving the organization in a major initiative to get nonprofit staff, volunteers and clients signed up to vote (for the recent California elections). I have noticed that some nonprofits shy away from such activities in their direct service programs because they are fearful that some donors might say they are ‘becoming political.’ How can you deal with that?

First of all, this is non-partisan voter registration to get out the vote. We’re not telling people how to vote. We are saying that whatever the ideals and values that brought you into contact with the non-profit sector, vote with those values.

Nonprofits are not outside of communities, they are the ways that a community organizes to take care of itself. But I also think that we don’t just serve people, we represent them. Anybody that’s serving children with disabilities, for instance, is also representing them. There is a lot of heavily lawyer-scrutinized information in the Legal FAQ’s section of CalNonprofit’s website which indicates what nonprofits can and can’t do in this area.

LOOKING UP AND DOWNSTREAM

In my discussion with Jan Poppendieck, she touched on the need for food banks and similar organizations to put more emphasis on looking up and downstream from what their own particular level of involvement was with clients.

This is vital. I can think of an example of a shelter program for runaway kids that used to be funded by the government. They received a fee for service based on a performance outcome basis. The designated outcome was reuniting kids with their families, and they would receive a certain amount of money for every kid they reunified with his or her family. But if you look downstream and think about it for 10 seconds you realize that with some kids, reunification is a good outcome but for many others, it is no. There were a lot of kids being returned to abusive homes or to a home where drugs were being used all the time. The nonprofit realized they needed another goal, of more long-term shelter for those kids who didn’t have good homes to go back to. They received no government money for this, so they had to raise it. And then looking upstream, they realized they had to advocate to get the policy changed that specified unification as the only goal. If they had only thought of themselves as a little factory of unduplicated units of service they might have remained focused on the unification numbers. But because they are representing this part of our community, they had to find the best outcome for them even if it didn’t mean they got any money for it. Standing on the sidelines is easy, but is no longer an option if we want to achieve big things.

 GOVERNMENT, BUSINESS AND NONPROFITS

We hear a lot about the supposed realignment of the roles between government, business and nonprofit organizations. What is your take on this?

I think it’s about smoke and not fire. I just read in today’s paper that some country music star is going on a tour, and in each of 25 cities, he’s going to buy a house mortgage free for a veteran there. That’s wonderful, and great publicity for him. Unfortunately this is not really an example of private dollars helping veterans in a significant way, it is more about winning a lottery, and that is no way to help those around us. We have over a million veterans in the United States and he’s buying houses for 21 of them. So I think that the idea that private money is going to supplant the need for government money will never be true.

I‘m jes’ tryin’ to help best I can. Don’t be dragging me into your whiney little blog.

 So, kind of like with Tom’s shoes concept, which sounds great (and full disclosure, my ten month old, Mia Regina has a ‘metallic tweed’ pair she received at her baby shower) but actually does little to build a sustainable way for people in those countries to create the businesses to help provide shoes for themselves. 

Tom’s Metallic Tweed Shoes for Baby

Yes. I member a California foundation that poured millions and millions into working with the schools and weren’t getting much in the way of results and someone explained that they had really only put in about as much as the lightbulb changing budget for the Los Angeles Unified School District. These problems are too big for most foundations to move the needle on, or for government to excuse themselves from.

What about the ways in which businesses and nonprofits can work together more? Don’t you think that businesses are starting to approach some things like a nonprofit and vice-versa?

Businesses always absorb what is the culture of the day, in order to sell their products. So for example there was a time when paisley prints were radical and wild. So people who wore paisley or had long hair practically saw this as being anti-corporate. Then business took that over and people with long hair were in commercials for cars. I think that right now we have a similar cultural view, which is about doing good in the world and being community-oriented. Don’t get me wrong, it is important and valuable, but I think like every other cultural movement business uses this and when the cultural movement passes, business will pass too.

Maybe if he hadn’t been wearing a paisley hoodie…

But, corporations are run by and made up of people (just ask Mitt Romney) so those people can always express their generosity and concern about the world, despite the business imperative. We’ve come a long way from Johnson and Johnson’s shareholders suing the company when it attempted to divert some dollars to philanthropic activities. Helping the community is always smart business, so I don’t see that changing.

Sure, but when doing good crashes up against consumerism is where things often grind to a halt. So, for example, all the people who are passionate about sustainable agriculture might not want to realize that the most significant thing they could do about reducing the energy cost in agriculture would be to stop eating lettuce. Lettuce uses more energy cost related to the nutrition it provides than any single produce item on the planet. And yet you don’t see environmentalist calling for the end to eating lettuce. So I think that it can become a symbol of how we want to do things and see ourselves, but we don’t really want to make any changes to our consumer lifestyle.

COLLECTIVE IMPACT

COLLECTIVE IMPACT

On a local level, how do you think that nonprofits can collaborate and get some kind of collective impact?

I think the way that food banks work with their member agencies is an excellent example of bona fide collective impact that is generating extra value. For the most part, the smoke around collective impact and collaboration is not about something that genuinely works but creating the appearance of something that’s going to work. Almost all of these efforts are funder-driven and the funders put money into them and when the funders take the money out, it collapses. And that suggests that it’s it’s not a business model that works.

 So what sort of examples can you give where that’s happened?

Foundation after foundation has created local collaborations and they’re around many different areas. Sometimes they are focused around a particular neighborhood and they’ll create a collaboration of different nonprofits and businesses to work on that neighborhood. Sometimes they might be a collaborative of something like domestic violence shelters working across 6 counties or the like. Many of these collaborations have grown organically over time, so they actually work. But others failed, like the Hewlett Foundation’s neighborhood improvement initiative and Annenberg’s initiative in public schools, the San Francisco Foundation’s Lifeline collaborative. They were put together in a way that didn’t make business sense for any of them and so when the outside money disappeared, the collaborations evaporated. So the collaborative initiatives that last are the ones that genuinely make sense for people and almost all of them are started by the nonprofits themselves, not by funders and their consultants.

I think funders have got to build on existing community strengths. And if there is not an organic community strength in that particular community then maybe you can’t fund them successfully.  Maybe you have to look for a different community or maybe you have to take a longer view and say maybe there are 6 or 7 weak organizations in that community but let’s take a longer view of building their strengths. Instead I think what tends to happen is that a foundation that wants to work in a particular community or field and they see 5 or 6 weak organizations, then they figure if they just had a consultant to bring them together for collective impact, then it will all work out. It won’t.

One of the things that keeps nonprofits honest is that we get feedback from the market and we have two markets – a client or patron market and then we also have a funding market, so we have to work in both of them. Whenever you’re in a situation when you don’t have to work with those markets, then things can go wrong and you’ll never know it. That’s kind of like back in the old Soviet Union when the state decided  what a factory should produce. There was no reason for anybody to get any better. Any institution that is not kept in check by some kind of market goes bad and doesn’t know it.

And so how can a foundation avoid getting into that situation then?

They can support community-based efforts as opposed to starting their own initiatives. I visited a foundation recently and they had on the wall a large poster that they had created with a circle. And in the middle of that circle was their logo, very large. And then around the outside of the circle were other foundations and nonprofits. They said to me that this represents our view of how we collaborate with other people and I felt like – No! – this represents your view of how you’re in the center of the universe.

EARNED INCOME

I did a recent post about earned income for nonprofits. What is your take on this area?

A former consulting client of mine, for example, was running an organization they did a lot of psychological counseling for people and families across the spectrum. They received funding to support this work and then when that funding declined, they focused more on earned income. So, they were able to successfully grow their earned income side, and their budget didn’t look any smaller. But if you look closer, they’re now primarily serving people that can afford to pay rather than across the economic spectrum. And I think that this story writ large has been the hidden story of the move toward earned income.

You don’t feel that this can be balanced by having scholarships or sliding scales?

I think it can be mitigated and it’s a partial answer for some organizations but we need to be alert that so far at least many of the earned income gains have come at the cost of helping middle class people rather than economically disadvantaged people.

Many food banks resell purchased food or require a shared maintenance fee of a few cents a pound for some food items that they provide to member agencies. Some food banks don’t do that but we have found that in situations where there is no fee, it leads to inefficiencies with organizations taking more than they need.

So you introduced in a market element, right?

Yes, we’re not charging individuals, we’re asking organizations to take a financial stake in what we’re doing.

You should realize that I’m not trying to sound like I’m anti-earned income. I’m just saying earned income is not a replacement either for charitable dollars or government money.

I read your recent Blue Avocado post “In the Titanic Recession, Which Nonprofits Get the Lifeboats?” and this touches on the ideas you have just expressed about a shift from services to the very poor.

Yes, nonprofits that provide “the most basic anti-poverty for the poor and homeless failed at around twice the rate of more mainstream services.” Also, only about 16% of foundation funding is targeted to low income communities.

Which you lay at the doorstep of the focus on “innovation, social enterprise, outcome metrics and the coolness factor.” Jan, this is hitting me where I live!

It should! But I think food banks are hardly the type of organizations that are in this situation. They are doing some of the most important and pressing human work. And these and other organizations are where the money and focus should go.

Thanks Jan. There is a lot to think about there. Please continue to challenge us.

Waking the Sleeping Dragon: A pathway for food banks to create an equitable food system – A Dialogue with Jan Poppendieck

Jan Poppendieck’s book on the emergency food provision system, entitled ‘Sweet Charity?: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement’ was released in 1998. It is a book I only came across a year or so ago, and  for me it was like discovering some secret artifact that confirmed all the things I had come to believe after six years of running a soup kitchen for the homeless and four years running a food bank.

I now ask new leadership team members in our organization to read the book as background to why ‘charity’ alone cannot solve the nutrition issues we are facing. Jan has been active both as an academic and also serving on the board of Why Hunger? in NYC, amongst others. She has most recently written “Free for All: Fixing School Food in America,” . I spoke to Jan last week.

Jan Poppendieck

How have things changed since you wrote Sweet Charity?

Not enough. Nevertheless, foodbankers are escaping from the emergency mentality. They have been in this business so long now that they know that the short term emergency is not the whole story. The implication is that if we are not feeding people for only the short term, then we have to pay much closer attention to the nutritional impact of our actions. This means there has been much more awareness of the need for fresh produce within the network.

Sue Sigler, the ED of the California Association of Food Banks recently told me that she thought ‘Sweet Charity’ was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing food banks into the public policy realm, which was an area considered best avoided prior to 1999.

That’s flattering. I hope I helped move the discussion along. Certainly, the food bank network is more visible and active in public policy advocacy now, especially in the fight to protect TEFAP and SNAP. There is lots of room for more engagement too. I imagine the foodbanking network as a sleeping dragon that if it could mobilize all of the soup kitchen and pantry staff and clients and volunteers and supporters and board members, we would have a very loud voice in public policy. It is a huge challenge of course, but even mobilizing some of them could be very effective.

Do you think this group should be mobilized around what to enshrine or include in a specific piece of legislation like the Farm Bill, or do you think it has to be a wider, less specific mobilization around a cause.

That’s an interesting question. Like most others in the policy world I live from crisis to crisis or opportunity to opportunity. Fighting cutbacks on SNAP while the economy is suffering like it is now is something that has to be done, but it tends to draw all of our energy and attention. It is harder to move from responding to an immediate threat to a more visionary approach to public policy, where we are looking downstream at what kind of country we want to live in, and what kind of people do we want to be. Emergency food provision can be a tough place to start this discussion from.

That’s exactly why some are trying to find a new and powerful place – the public health arena – from where food banks and their network of 64,000 member agencies can have a fresh kind of leverage and  credibility to operate from, one that is underpinned by a long-term preventative health approach. I believe this path can be less divisive within our political landscape where ‘division’ seems to be the current approach to problem solving. If we look back at the fight against tobacco, it was not couched in terms of ‘haves’ giving charity to help ameliorate the conditions of the ‘have-nots’, but in terms of what was smart for the future health of the country. We need to take that same approach with nutrition.

One of the great things about the history of public health is that it has always stressed interventions that would target hazards or sources of ill health in the population and in the environment, as well as changes in individual behavior. On your From Hunger to Health site, where you run through the ‘Lovely Leptin’ and the ‘Ghastly Ghrelin’ – that is the clearest presentation I have seen about why distributing highly processed foods leads to hunger and obesity. The education with food approach that you are taking is right, because if it leads to us to being able to draw in the grass roots – the little church food pantry in the low-income neighborhood – it could produce a massive movement for change that would lead to a demand for healthier food, and public policies which would promote the production of healthier food.

The public health community often has a top-down approach. They indicate that they’ve done the research and know what is bad for us and are busy getting the word out through all sorts of messaging. But somehow they don’t encourage a process whereby people are able to discover this out for themselves and deduce what kind of changes are needed, for instance in what is available in their local store at a fair price. If food banking could become the pathway by which food insecure Americans began to assert their power towards a healthier food supply, it would be fantastic.

That is what an increasing number of food banks are beginning to promote. Outreach in the past often meant drawing people into our programs, then it became more focused on promoting SNAP. If you look at what  Santa Cruz are trying to do with their Ambassadors Program or we are trying to do with our Nutritional Advisory Committees, it is moving things to the next step of empowerment.

Certainly there is more specific interest from Feeding America out of their new strategic plan, in what is possible by ‘mobilizing the public.’ Though I believe there is still a little too much emphasis on that mobilization being focused on people ‘telling their stories’ to the end of helping us highlight the continuing seriousness of food insecurity, rather than taking the next step and empowering them to move beyond their stories and become more involved in creating a local food system that truly looks after their health. It’s hard work, but it’s the kind of ground-up work that leads to true transformation.

I think that this is how things need to happen. We can’t end hunger with more and more food. Mounting inequality means that our public policy is typically made by those who can afford private schools and boutique medical care and gated communities. They are the ones making decisions about how much to invest in the public solutions that are there for the rest of us. They need to hear the voices of those who they are there to serve, or we need to replace them with people who share our interests and problems.

Free for All: Fixing School Food in America, University of California Press, 2011

Your most recent book “Free For All” looks at another puzzle palace of American nutrition, the school food system and the need for it to be reformed. Is there a link between the subject matter of these two books?

Both books are all about how average families get by. School food is so important, because the more human needs we can have met through normalized situations like the provision of a healthy school lunch, then the less people have to become marginalized and forced into seeking emergency solutions.

Also, school cafeterias used to be instructional and have an educational function – to teach kids how to eat well. I would say this is something we need more than ever, to compensate for the distortions in diet that are a consequence of the fortunes spent in selling non-nutritious food-like products to kids.

Thanks Jan, for your work and your vision.

Feeding America CEO’s message to network: Adapt or Die?

Adaptation is a rare thing. For one thing, it is the title of that rarest of things, a good Nicholas Cage movie, but rare also when it comes to nonprofit organizations who see that their own continued success is dependent on a major change in its approach or operating model. Adaptation was the main theme of the keynote address to the Unity 2012 summit by Feeding America CEO, Vicki Escarra.

She told the audience of several hundred food bankers from around the country that getting food and distributing it was no longer enough. Building bigger and bigger food banks was no longer enough. That it was the role of the network of food banks to lay the groundwork for change so fewer people need assistance, and to improve the wellness of clients so that they are healthy enough to move toward self-sufficiency.

Yes!

If this blog and the work we are doing in Santa Barbara is about anything, it is about this. Amazing amounts of innovation come out of the network, but  to hear the CEO of Feeding America say something like this in a keynote to a group of food bankers (comprising a good number of people who have been perfectly happy pushing more and more food through the system, and who would view looking at their mission as anything else as heretical )- it was still sweet music.

As I sat in one of the sessions, I was inspired to doodle a physical representation of this adaptation and what it would mean for Feeding America. This graphic comprises my view of what should happen – I don’t think Feeding America are going to drop another $20 million on a rebranding to adopt my new version of the logo, but nevertheless…

Evolution: Time to pull ourselves up out of the dreaded pink slime…

As Escarra related it, this concern about getting stuck and becoming a dinosaur came to her when she was literarily surrounded by dinosaur bones at a Boston Consulting Group conference that was being held in NYC’s natural history museum. The report to this conference indicated that the world was facing a period of prolonged turbulence with some fundamental shifts occurring for companies to be aware of. The gaps between winners and losers is growing. The link between profitability and industry share has virtually vanished. The traditional ways of planning and building competitive advantage have changed too. Instead of being good at one thing, companies need to be good at learning to do new things, and quick to read and act on signals of change.

Non-profit leaders taking the risk to leave their conference hotel and hit the streets.

Escarra admitted that this openness to change was also linked to the realization by her organization that increases in awareness of the issue of hunger in America were not being met by a commensurate level of response of people taking action to do something about it. Three years ago, everyone got the issue of emergency food. Everyone knew someone who lost their job and was suffering. After three years of banging away at the level of ‘Emergency, Emergency, Emergency’, people are not viewing it as an emergency anymore and want to move on.

Escarra related that great companies were fostering a culture of innovation generated by unlocking the resources of the people who work for them, and that the network of food banks would also have to rely on innovation to remain relevant. This would mean that rapid testing of new ideas and scaling those that were successful had to be the cornerstone of the way the organization moved forward, whether it was new ways of sourcing the next billion pounds of food or new ways of fighting chronic diseases like diabetes through the activities of food banks. As the world evolved, so Feeding America would have to evolve with it.

It sounds like the movement from Hunger to Health now has a powerful ally, and I for one will work to ensure that this change in the conversation becomes something more lasting – a network-wide evolution of food banks to move beyond emergency treatment and into preventative treatment.