Why we invest: The meaning behind supporting new ideas through the Fresh Food Challenge

Inside view of the Oak City Outreach Center, Fresh Food Challenge distribution partner and pilot site.

The Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation recently launched the Fresh Food Challenge in collaboration with our partners at Clark’s Promise and the Oak City Outreach Center.

The challenge seemed somewhat simple at the beginning — let’s work to get fresh, better food to the most vulnerable citizens of our community.

Then the challenge grew.

The Oak City Outreach Center does not have a kitchen, or storage space, or refrigeration. It wasn’t just a lack of will or desire to generate better food for our most vulnerable. The food providers, who are doing remarkable, important work, are faced with practical challenges that must be overcome.

We launched the challenge in January with a broad range of attendees and coverage intrigued by the concept, location, and direct implementation partners with the News and Observer and the Indy Week both covered the launch and the key goals behind it.

The foundation has focused on the lack of healthy food as a poverty issue, a special interest of Jamie Hahn’s. It’s a problem that resonates in Raleigh, with our thriving restaurant scene and so many of Jamie’s generation working around food and valuing it. — Bob Geary, Raleigh: No longer terrible to the homeless

We ultimately received a number of substantial, important ideas from across the region. High school students, existing food providers, a start-up and neighborhood group, and more.

All of the work of the entrants and our partners will move to the next step on February 27th as part of Mentor Day which will then proceed to the Pitch Day. During the Mentor Day, entrants work one-on-one with an array of mentors, ranging from successful entrepreneurs to homeless services professionals to individuals representing food-based businesses, to refine their ideas and partnerships. On March 10th, each team will present their top idea to a panel of expert judges in hopes of winning the $25,000 implementation grant. The challenge will conclude with a reception immediately following pitches to celebrate the spirit of collaboration and top ideas.

You may be asking how this fits with the work of the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation.

Part of it is simple — it began with an idea that Jamie was working on in the final months of her life. Jamie was concerned that our most vulnerable — those who participate in backpack buddy programs and even the homeless — were receiving food that would meet basic caloric requirements, but not provide the nutrition that they desperately need to be the best version of themselves.

The next iteration of the idea came when we began to build the framework for the Foundation in the months following Jamie’s death. One of our co-founders, and current board members, Joyce Fitzpatrick reminded us at our first meeting that Jamie was always willing to take risks on behalf of underdogs and suggested that we invest in emerging solutions as well.

Now, two and a half years later, we have completed our strategic plan and launched a variety of programs, and the Challenge is one additional step forward.

2015 Fellow, George “Nate” Barilich, volunteers at the Camden Street Learning Garden run by Inter-Faith Food Shuttle which works to provide fresh produce to SE Raleigh kids and families.

Our plan calls on us to invest in emerging leaders and solutions who will make a difference on behalf of those who live in poverty, those who are hungry, and the single greatest provider of opportunity in this country — our public schools.

We have a Fellowship program, we manage service projects, we Gather for Good and convene around critical issues, and now we have an innovation challenge.

The innovation challenge has brought out emerging leaders and organizations with innovative solutions. We’ve seen unique partnerships emerge. And we believe that even the projects that do not win will have the ability to move forward and make a difference in our community.