Food Banks Demonstrate the Power of Community Engagement for Results

Posted March 16, 2018, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Coachella Valley, California

Noé Montes for the FIND Food Bank in Coachella Valley, California.

Just over a year since adopt­ing Results Count™ prac­tices, two food banks on oppo­site sides of the coun­try — FIND (Food In Need of Dis­tri­b­u­tion) Food Bank, serv­ing Coachel­la Val­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, and Sec­ond Har­vest Food Bank of North­west North Car­oli­na in Win­ston-Salem — and their part­ners have used the Casey Foun­da­tion approach to fur­ther focus their strate­gies and incor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ty feed­back to make those strate­gies better.

Results Count, the Foundation’s sig­na­ture approach to lead­er­ship devel­op­ment, stress­es the impor­tance of col­lab­o­ra­tion, equi­ty and the use of data to set tar­gets and mea­sure progress. For lead­ers in these sites, the frame­work has led to new ways of lis­ten­ing and respond­ing to their com­mu­ni­ties — and in the process, allow­ing the voic­es of the peo­ple they serve to shape and refine how results are achieved.

Learn more about Results Count

Feed­ing Amer­i­ca, a nation­al hunger-relief net­work, called on mem­ber food banks in 2015 to col­lab­o­rate with part­ners on a range of issues — not just hunger, but food secu­ri­ty, hous­ing, health and employ­ment. The orga­ni­za­tion knew this would be a dif­fer­ent way of work­ing for the food banks. Mea­sur­able change in these new areas would require spe­cif­ic lead­er­ship skills, like test­ing strate­gies and piv­ot­ing in real time,” says Feed­ing Amer­i­ca Pro­gram Man­ag­er Kel­ly Goodall. Feed­ing Amer­i­ca reached out to Casey to help, and FEED (Fuel, Engage, Empow­er, Dri­ve), a 15-month Results Count lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­gram, launched in Sep­tem­ber 2016.

In Coachel­la Val­ley, where the idyl­lic land­scape can obscure the fact that near­ly half the area’s res­i­dents live below 200% of the fed­er­al pover­ty line, FIND Food Bank and its part­ners estab­lished the col­lec­tive impact ini­tia­tive Lift to Rise. Fol­low­ing a com­pre­hen­sive needs assess­ment, the part­ners focused on improv­ing out­comes in tar­get areas that includ­ed health and hous­ing sta­bil­i­ty. But a crit­i­cal blind spot came to light through the initiative’s engage­ment with FEED: the role of immi­gra­tion sta­tus as a deter­min­ing fac­tor in who was strug­gling in the region, and how.

The work of the pro­gram guid­ed the part­ners to revis­it their orig­i­nal assump­tions about the sources of hard­ship and dig deep­er. FEED cre­at­ed a cul­ture of lis­ten­ing that was essen­tial to our under­stand­ing of people’s feel­ings of insta­bil­i­ty,” says Heather Vaikona, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Lift to Rise and direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ty invest­ment at FIND Food Bank. We reviewed the data and had to ask our­selves what the peo­ple who are actu­al­ly liv­ing these truths have to say. We had to think about results in the con­text of sys­tems of power.”

When Lift to Rise began test­ing strate­gies to increase the scale and sat­u­ra­tion of income-based util­i­ty sub­si­dies, it made sure that immi­grant house­holds could qual­i­fy for the reduced util­i­ty rates regard­less of their legal sta­tus. While only a small num­ber of new appli­cants were approved in the test­ing phase, it set a prece­dent that could ulti­mate­ly affect the bot­tom line for sev­er­al thou­sand low-income fam­i­lies in East­ern Coachel­la Valley.

The adop­tion of a results-based frame­work also led to a deep­er inte­gra­tion of com­mu­ni­ty voic­es in Win­ston-Salem, home to Sec­ond Har­vest Food Bank. There, Sec­ond Har­vest and its part­ners formed the col­lec­tive impact ini­tia­tive Imag­ine Forsyth, which is named for the broad­er county.

Food bank­ing is his­tor­i­cal­ly good at mea­sur­ing out­puts, but not out­comes — how much food is going out ver­sus what dif­fer­ence it’s mak­ing,” says Nik­ki McCormick, part­ner­ship direc­tor for Imag­ine Forsyth and direc­tor of agency rela­tions for Sec­ond Har­vest. The FEED pro­gram forced us to come up with a strat­e­gy that was dri­ven by results.”

Imag­ine Forsyth’s strat­e­gy — a nutri­tion deliv­ery pro­gram that com­bined healthy food access with nutri­tion edu­ca­tion and oth­er com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices — was designed with input from com­mu­ni­ty focus groups and pilot­ed with a small set of fam­i­lies in the pub­lic hous­ing devel­op­ment Pied­mont Park.

After the program’s first cycle, the part­ners returned to the com­mu­ni­ty for feed­back and made adjust­ments to address bar­ri­ers to engage­ment. For exam­ple, two-hour cook­ing class­es were switched to less time-inten­sive demos, and addi­tion­al recipes were includ­ed with fresh food deliv­er­ies to help fam­i­lies with meal prepa­ra­tion. Quick feed­back mech­a­nisms, such as three-ques­tion sur­veys admin­is­tered dur­ing pro­gram ses­sions, allowed the net­work to iden­ti­fy par­tic­i­pa­tion bar­ri­ers and respond accord­ing­ly. By the end of the sec­ond cycle, 44% of par­tic­i­pants report­ed an increase in their intake of fresh produce.

McCormick attrib­ut­es these devel­op­ments to the Results Count frame­work, which, she says, pro­vid­ed a skele­ton for how to do the work in a safe learn­ing envi­ron­ment, encour­ag­ing action with results as the North Star, rather than get­ting stuck in analy­sis paral­y­sis.’” Goodall points out, It’s not What can we do in six months?’ but What can we do right now?’”

The sto­ries of Lift to Rise and Imag­ine Forsyth demon­strate how results-based lead­er­ship goes hand in hand with com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment,” says Casey Senior Asso­ciate Jen­nifer Gross. While these ini­tia­tives are in their ear­ly stages, their suc­cess so far indi­cates the poten­tial for changes that could tan­gi­bly improve the lives of many thou­sands of chil­dren and families.”

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