Our overall goal is to shorten the line of need. Second Harvest Food Bank does this by a variety of programs and engagements with the community at large. We have grown the holistic approach to our work since making a conscience pro-active decision to broaden our focus in 2015. As challenging as it may sound, we decided that only re-distributing food, along with some other perennial outreach efforts, was not enough for us to focus our energy on every day. Since then, we have evolved to become an organization that is relationship-focused in our new initiatives and it has affected every aspect of who we are and what we do.
Our school based relationship initiative, soon to be re-branded, is connecting parents with school staffs in 29 schools spread over our 8 county service area. This dynamic initiative is designed to positively impact the child when parents and school staffs are building positive connections. We are beginning to secure additional providers, organizations and businesses who have the desire to reach out to the families with additional engagement opportunities in which families can benefit. We are also in the season of data collection with this initiative that will be useful to guide our strategies for the future and provide some great feedback to our funding partners. This generational, long-term strategy is showing strong promise that kids are making progress in improved attendance and soft-skill development. We have our sights set on adding 15 more schools over the next 3 years.
Working with the A.L.I.C.E. (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) population through our Forward S.T.E.P.S. initiative is our medium-term strategy. While working families have seen some recent job growth opportunities by a stronger economy, there is no quick path to self-sustainability. Employers tell us that entry level job turnover is high and drives up the cost of operation, not to mention frustration with possibly missing some growth opportunities for the business. Working with families in relationship-building sessions to help identify what or who is holding them from making progress to a life style that has less stress and more stability is very rewarding and challenging work. The recruitment of community volunteers to form intentional mutually-accountable relationships with A.L.I.C.E. families has paid dividends for all who are participating. This engagement can be for 18-36 months. Some wonderful success stories were shared at the latest graduation ceremony held in February. We intend to expand this initiative into an additional county over the next 3 years.
Senior citizens, (60 years and up) are the fastest growing segment of the food insecure population. Many factors come into play. Multi-generational households, grandparents raising grandkids, not being financially prepared for retirement, rising costs of healthcare and prescriptions, and simply people living longer who may have out-lived their resources are some of the factors driving this trend. We currently have 5 sites that we supply some supplemental food assistance for seniors specifically. The program is called the Senior Safety Net. This outreach is monthly and is approximately 30 pounds of food with a heavy emphasis on fresh produce that seniors can use to help them stretch their resources for the month. We are planning to expand this outreach with an additional 5 more sites over the next 3 years.
In direct food assistance, our 115 agency partners over the 8 counties are the front line defense in addressing food insecure families. Many dedicated volunteers have donated their time for decades and continue to play a vital role in reaching struggling families. The agencies have become more integrated in their approach to see their operations continue. Several have become more proficient grant writers and marketers to engage community support. Our Tailgate Distribution has also recently expanded with several more distributions recently and more planned for the future as we try to ease some of the disruption caused by the government shutdown. That may sound like old news, but it takes longer for a struggling family to recover from disruption than those with more resources or the government.
The average age of a person seeking food assistance is 52 years old. From our recent Hunger Study data, we also know that 36% have had to choose between food and utilities in the last 6 months. 75% identify as White, 18% as Black and 3% as Hispanic. Educational attainment is spread over the food insecure population as well. 21% have less than a high school diploma, 47% have a high school diploma or a GED and 31% have a certificate, associate degree, some college or 4 year degree. We also know from Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap Study that approximately 30% are working and make too much money for any government assistance.
So for us, providing help for today and hope for tomorrow is as essential as a fire department that puts out fires along with a strong fire prevention initiative. One without the other leaves a lot to be desired for the well-being of the community.
by Tim Kean