By Tim Kean
Thanks to you, 2019 was a positive year for us. With your help, we have grown The Big Idea initiative (relationship-based initiative) to 35 schools in 8 counties. Over 2,000 families are now engaging with their school at least each month in getting to know the teachers and staff. Positive discussions are happening where little or no contact existed before. 60% of families report feeling more connected to their school. 91% of families reported positive interaction with the teachers and staff while attending The Big Idea.
Our Forward STEPS initiative (relationship based in Delaware Co.) has reported conducting 17 Activation Classes with 16 participants, 39 under-resourced family members met with 27 accountability partners as part of 45 weekly community dinners, with 67 kids enrolled in Youth Enrichment. 18 Empowerment Leaders earned raises on their jobs, 22 leaders accomplished 2 or more sustainability goals and 3 Leaders are new home owners. 11 leaders won new jobs or promotions with their current employers and 29 youth earned honor roll status at school.
Our yet-to-be-named, 0-5 initiative (families with kids aged 0-5) is continuing to be crafted with community partnerships and collaboration that will move forward in early 2020. We are excited to engage with families in ways that will help them see and understand their own empowerment as their child’s first teacher. Positive intentional interaction will stimulate brain development and socialization skills that will help set the stage for being ready to start kindergarten. Diapers, baby supplies, books and interactive kits will provide the parent with the much-needed resources for this interaction to become more routine. We will have some pilot programs in place very soon.
We became a member of the National Diaper Bank, securing a steady supply of this much-needed community resource. We distributed over 8 million pounds of food, which was almost 1 million over 2018! Fresh produce was 34% of that total, up half a million pounds over 2018. Our Senior Safety Net initiative (senior food insecurity) is now at 6 locations in 4 counties with expansion plans at 2 more sites in 2 additional counties early in 2020. The Tailgate Distribution (our direct service mobile food program) provided over 2.6 million pounds of products to struggling families in our drive-through format. Endless energy was provided by our 95 agency partners in 8 counties to distribute over 4 million pounds of products to thousands of neighbors.
Let’s share some statistics and address some myths that we have researched or have been provided to us by Feeding America and our agency partners. Pantries report that a food insecure family visits a food pantry on average 3.2 times per year. Only 10-15 % of families visiting a food pantry visit every time during the year that they are allowed. Why is that? Many families are bobbing up and down from month to month with enough resources to make ends meet. A life event happens and they may need to visit a pantry for the next 2 months and then not again for 6 more months. Some families are in a chronic economic circumstance that may never change, will need and seek assistance every month. Families may need to visit more than 1 pantry in a month because the average gap that they face in 7 pounds of food per person in the household every week. That means, if you come from a family of 4 people you may need to access 28 pounds of food this week to cover that gap. The average food pantry provides less than 7 pounds of food per person, so a portion of the gap still remains. Next week means another 28 pounds needs to be located. If a pantry allows a family to come once a month and provides less than a family needs, a family may seek assistance at 6 -8 pantries to try and cover the gap. Not only can they be stigmatized for “gaming the system”, they have to use limited precious resources like gas, bus fare or friendships to navigate around town at odd hours and days of limited operations.
A question I am almost always asked when speaking to a group is concerning our Tailgate Distributions (our direct service drive through program), that is “Don’t you think people are accessing food who really don’t need it (cheating the system) because you have no qualifications to receive it?” My answer is always YES. I qualify my response by saying it’s not a question of if there is abuse, but how much. I spent 30 years in the grocery business before my food bank life and statically there were about 1-2 % of “customers” who were shoplifters. I believe that still holds true today. People have challenged that over the years and I’m fine with that. Believing the number is 5 or 10 or even 20% may say something about someone’s own sad biased view about their fellow human beings, so whatever helps them sleep at night. Even if the extreme number of 20% were true, then 80% would still be there for the right reason. I also relate that families line up at these venues and wait many times for 4 hours or longer with some occasionally spending the night in line. If a family will wait 4 hours to receive some assistance my guess is they need it. I consider that program self-policing. I don’t know anyone personally who’s cheated on their taxes, but I suspect that may still happen and I don’t believe it’s 20%. I sleep very well. Thanks for your support and have a great day!