Thinking About Launching an Emergency Feeding Program?
Here are 5 things you should consider before launching into food relief.
Emergency food relief programs have gone beyond crisis management at this point — they’ve become essential to keeping entire economies afloat.
With the Biden-Harris administration recently pushing through new emergency relief funds for FEMA, local and state governments might be revisiting or expanding their food relief programs to help the food insecure in what continues to be a pandemic-induced public health crisis.
As we’ve learned from pivoting our businesses from a focus on fun events to feeding those in need, there are a few things that are ripe for change in the old system. And if you’re considering getting into the movement, there are a few things that we can share from what we’ve learned.
Here’s what you need to consider when creating a food program for the food insecure.
1) Identify the need and funding.
To create a comprehensive food relief program, the first step is to determine the funding sources for the program, most programs are run by the local government who receives grants from FEMA or through non-profits who receive funds from donations. Next step is to work with stakeholders or the local government officials to determine what the community’s needs are for food relief — in addition to how much budget can be allocated to the program. Budget and funding sources are essential in determining the scope of the project, which should take into consideration, length of program, the number of participants, number of meals or grocery boxes each participant may receive, as well as delivery considerations.
Food insecurity expands over many demographics, so it may be difficult to nail down who the participants are. This is why government programs try to specify a much smaller, niche group to support such as senior citizens or low income community members.
The most important part is to determine the need, do people need prepared meals or groceries? Most food programs either provide meals or groceries, while some do both. Groceries provide flexibility and creativity since participants can do a lot with a box of groceries, but there must be a solution for those who don’t have access to a kitchen or meal prep space. Flexibility, nimbleness and a multifaceted solution is what leads to the success of a food relief program.
2) Determine the intake process.
One thing is integral, helping your government partners (eg: state, county, city) to understand the needs around their intake process because everyone does it differently. Some governments already have other nutrition programs in place, so it’s nice when a local government owns the intake process because they are able to better serve the community.
We’ve learned that a centralized intake process provides the best possible solution. This means that applicants aren’t turned away if they aren’t accepted in one particular program, but rather given another option for food relief. There’s always a finite amount of funds, so there are frequently people stuck in the middle who aren’t eligible or who may be waitlisted for years.
The key is to think outside the box when deciding who participates. It may be worthwhile to expand your idea of who might need food relief.
3) Make the dollars go further.
Food relief programs should be twofold — help food insecure individuals while also helping local food businesses. By enlisting independent restaurants and distribution partners, you’ll also be able to indirectly support local farmers and food purveyors. This ultimately affects the entire food supply chain.
Local governments are typically on tight budgets, but you’d be surprised to find out that officials may be willing to pay more per meal when they realize their funds are being utilized to procure meals from local restaurants and groceries from farmers and small independently owned food purveyors. By paying just a little bit more, they are not only able to support the food insecure, but provide economic value to local restaurants, food purveyors and farmers in their own backyard.
Get creative with what local businesses to make the greatest impact. For example, a large facility or any place that has a kitchen — from a school to hotel to a brewery to a music venue — can be turned into an aggregating facility for grocery boxes.
4) Think outside the box for marketing.
The ultimate goal for marketing is figuring out how to drive more participants to the program. Typically, a local government already has a pre-qualified list of people they want to serve. The job of marketing is to think beyond in order to reach other individuals who may not know they are qualified for nutritional programs. Lean on your partners and your existing community network to get the word out about the program (think church groups, school systems and senior citizen facilities). Tap into the local city council or district members to spread the word to their constituents. Look for the right people who really believe in your mission.
Rely on your reputation to kick start partnerships and relationships with local businesses who you want to work with to make the program come to life. Having a solid online presence is foundational to building trust and a rapport with potential partners.
5) Build a system to collect data and measure success.
Food relief programs offer the opportunity to collect incredibly rich data. It helps the city, district council members and local governments know exactly what’s happening in their community, and will ultimately determine if they want to extend and expand the program.
Use the collected data from the participant’s intake submissions to determine demographics — including who is being served, how old they are, which district or region they live in. This data is insightful to show how the program is impacting targeted communities, and is important for the future funding of the program or future programs. This data is integral, so always ask more questions during intake. This helps with funding, political support and understanding the community.
Website analytics and tracking can be used on the back end to determine marketing performance, such as, are social media posts working? How did the radio ads perform? Did anyone sign up from seeing a flyer out in the community? This will help determine how to get more people signed up in the future.
There are a few ways to measure success. Questions you can ask: Did you reach the goal of the number of people to sign up? Did you utilize 100% of the budget allocated to the program? Did you appropriately budget labor and use your resources wisely? Did participants enjoy the food they were served? Do they feel healthier? But the real question is ultimately, did the program run smoothly and was it turnkey for all participants, including the food insecure and local businesses?
Creating a comprehensive food program can be done — and now is the time to do it.
While the pandemic’s grip is loosening, the widespread economic impact as it relates to food insecurity will continue well into the coming years.
Building systems now that can be deployed for future emergency situations is a worthwhile investment in building long standing thriving communities.
If you have questions about how we run our programs or would like to partner with us to create a feeding program, please reach out here.