Thinking About Launching an Emergency Feeding Program?

Here are 5 things you should consider before launching into food relief.

Kaity Cash
Feb 19 · 5 min read
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Off the Grid Food for Thought

Connecting community through food.

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