How Foodbanking has Changed

How Foodbanking has Changed

Three ways foodbanking has changed in the COVID-19 era

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

Over the course of the pandemic, there have been news stories across the nation of long food bank lines and an increase in demand like we have never seen before. But the nature of foodbanking has not always looked like this.

While we have all been adapting to a “new normal” at work and at home, those of us in foodbanking have also shifted the way we operate. We believe many of these changes are here to stay. Here are the top four ways foodbanking has changed in the COVID-19 era.

1. Food banks have had to shift emphasis to a direct service model.

Generally, we serve families in the community through two programming “buckets”. The first bucket is the distribution of food to partner agencies, which include 116 food pantries, hot meal sites, and other hunger relief agencies in the Miami Valley. This bucket is codified in our mission statement: “The Foodbank relieves hunger in the community through a network of partner agencies by acquiring and distributing food.”

However, there are some areas that have fewer resources. The second programming “bucket,” direct service, comprises interventions we make in those areas to meet any gaps. These include Mobile Farmers Markets, Mass Food Distributions, our on-site Drive Thru Food Pantry, and programs targeted to vulnerable demographics, such as our Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP, or Senior Food Box program).

At the height of the pandemic, our area saw an estimated 28% increase in reported food insecurity. At the same time, about 40% of our partner agencies were forced to suspend services due to a variety of difficulties, such as the closure of their facilities or the health concerns of their older, high-risk volunteer base. Some of these agencies still have yet to reopen.

In response, we have drastically increased service through our Drive Thru and Mass Distributions. In calendar year 2020, the number of people served through our Drive Thru more than doubled compared to the previous year, while the total number of people served by our agency pantries increased less than 5%.

 

2. Food banks have invested in capacity across the board 

With a significant increase in demand, many food banks have had to make large investments in their infrastructure in order to keep up. Our warehouse was built in 2014 and was designed to process up to 10 million pounds of food annually. We have consistently exceeded that amount, distributing 17.9 million pounds last fiscal year

To support this increased distribution of food, we have had to make significant investments in our capacity. In the past year, we have unveiled two new trucks and expanded our headquarters to accommodate additional staffing. We have grown from a team of just over 20 people to more than 50 strong.

Thankfully, donations from the public and grants have enabled us and other food banks to make these necessary expansions. Our partnership with Feeding America, the national network of food banks, has been more beneficial than ever this past year: To date, we have received over $1 million in COVID-19 related funding through Feeding America, much of it directed to improving our capacity.

Because the Foodbank originated as a Red Cross subsidiary, the foundation of our service model is disaster relief. We have a Disaster Plan in effect that allows us to respond quickly and efficiently to both local and national disasters. With the infrastructure improvements we have made in the past year, we will be better equipped to respond to disasters in the future.

 

3. Food banks are expanding services with an equity lens

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, food banks across the US released statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Simultaneously, the COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on the health disparities between communities of color and the white community. We and other food banks are taking steps to operationalize a more equity-focused mission.

The Foodbank values all people without judgement. We are not new to equity work. We deliberately hire and cultivate a diverse staff that includes people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, and people from various other backgrounds. We actively recruit team members who have previously been incarcerated. About one third of our current Foodbank team joined this hunger relief work after exiting the criminal justice system.

While systemic racism and inequality may be a new topic for some individuals in the nonprofit sector, it is a familiar reality to many of the people in our lines. We understand that racism is a contributing factor to differences in food insecurity among white and nonwhite households. African Americans are more than twice as likely to experience hunger in the United States.

In addition to participating in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion training, we are taking steps to build equity into our services. The Foodbank recently participated in a service gap map with the University of Dayton. This research study allows us to pinpoint communities that have fewer available resources. In a service territory that is still largely segregated, this is a valuable tool to assess how well we are serving diverse communities.

We are eager to learn and share more about EDI work as we continue down this path.

While 2020 was an immensely difficult year, the lessons learned and long-term investments made will help us to be more resilient, innovative, and adaptable in the future. Down the line, we hope to see a future in which hunger is not a reality for millions of Americans.

To learn more about or work, read our community impact statement here.


Why We Keep Feeding the Ducks

Why We Keep Feeding the Ducks

Some say of food assistance, “don’t feed the ducks or more will come.” With 30-40% of food going to waste in America, there is more than enough to go around

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

There is a comment we are tired of hearing: “There are a lot of nice cars in your line today.”

On days our Drive Thru Food Pantry is open, a line of cars stretches down the block. Some of these cars are a bit battered, a bit older — this is what somebody might assume the car of a hungry person “should” look like. Some are not.

When people make these comments to us, we remind them that there are a lot of very plausible reasons for a “nice” car to be in our line. Sometimes people pick up food on behalf of friends, families, and neighbors who do not have transportation or are house-bound. Some of our clients borrow cars to get to a food distribution. Some healthcare or social workers pick up food for the people they serve.

Sometimes, one unexpected job loss, sudden health emergency, or natural disaster is all it takes for a family that looks financially stable to need extra help.

But there is another reason we do not spend our time worrying who is in our lines. At The Foodbank, we do not believe that food is a scarce commodity that should be jealously hoarded. There is more than enough to go around. Our job is simply to close the loop in a food system that does not always fairly allocate its resources to those with lower incomes.

Food (Waste) for Thought

According to the US Department of Agriculture, 30-40% of food produced in the US goes to waste. That amounts to about 133 billion pounds of food each year, or 111 billion meals. For context, Feeding America has estimated that the total number of people experiencing food insecurity in the wake of the pandemic is just over 50 million.

As foodbankers, our job is to coordinate the movement of this food from where it is not needed to our 116 partner agencies and our direct service programs, such as the Drive Thru.

To be clear, we do not simply throw food into anyone’s trunk. All clients at our programs and partner agencies must have an income at or below 200% the federal poverty limit (230% during COVID). We track recipients of our food in our client management system, PantryTrak, and report aggregate data to key stakeholders, such as the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

(While clients must meet income guidelines to receive federal food, we do not turn people away. If somebody is at risk of going hungry and does not meet the income guidelines, we are able to give them food as long as it does not include federal and state-purchased food.)

Although we do purchase some food each year, a large portion of the food we distribute is food rescue product we pick up at the back docks of retailers. Otherwise, this food would likely go to waste.

Even the federally purchased food we receive, which must be distributed according to certain guidelines, is often a consequence of our food system. For example, food purchased through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) has included trade mitigation purchases to offset lost sales to China. These programs provide stimulus to farmers while redirecting much-needed food to American households.

In short, food insecurity is not caused by a lack of food in the United States. Food insecurity is really a symptom of a larger problem, which is structural poverty and inequality.

Building an Abundance Mentality

So why are we committed to shifting to a mentality of abundance instead of scarcity? Indeed, many nonprofits fall into this trap of fear-focused messaging because it makes for more compelling fundraising. However, we know that approaching our work with a mindset of scarcity is bad for the people in our lines.

While we know that we will not run out of food, we understand that fear can put those thoughts into the minds of people in crisis, especially for those who are receiving food assistance for the first time. Seeing a long line of cars a mile down the road might make people worry there won’t be enough for someone at the back of the line — we assure you there is no need to worry.

In all fairness, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented set of circumstances. At the end of March, we began to worry about the food supply in our warehouse. As supplies in grocery stores began to dwindle across the country, we wondered what that would mean for our ability to procure food.

In April, we had to place a 30 day service limit on visits to our Drive Thru, something we have never had to do before. Thankfully, by May we were able to lift that service limit and take a deep breath as food sourcing was no longer an issue. We have a slogan here at The Foodbank: “We’ll figure it out.” And we always do.

It is important to note that while we are not constrained by the overall supply of food, our ability to meet the need in our community is dependent on our financial reserves and physical capacity. During the pandemic, we have had to purchase more food and equipment than previous years. Donations are as critical as ever to allow us to keep serving families who need us.

We distributed over 18 million pounds of food last year, and we couldn’t have done it without the backing of our community.

At the end of the day, our job is to continue serving our clients without judgment. It is not up to us to decide how they got to us, as we know hunger does not operate in a silo.

The people in our lines include the single mom who lives next door to you and was already barely making ends meet before the pandemic. It is the elderly man down the street who does not have any family to help him. It is the person who looks like you who is experiencing a financial emergency.

People have told us, “don’t feed the ducks or more will come.”

We say, send the ducks to us. We have plenty of duck food.

 

 


The Foodbank, Inc. Congratulates Tom Vilsack for Agriculture Secretary Nomination

The Foodbank, Inc. Congratulates Tom Vilsack for Agriculture Secretary Nomination

The Foodbank, Inc congratulates Tom Vilsack on his nomination as Secretary for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) by the Biden-Harris Administration.

Secretary Vilsack’s previous 8 years’ experience as US Secretary of Agriculture under the Obama Administration will serve him well in his forthcoming role. It is our hope that Secretary Vilsack, who received the Food Research Action Center’s 2016 Distinguished Service Award, will apply the power of his position to address issues of food insecurity and nutrition quality throughout the US.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition programs. Without the support of SNAP, The Foodbank, Inc. and other food banks would be unable to meet the rise in hunger in our communities. As the administrator of SNAP and other nutrition programs, the USDA holds the keys to more substantive anti-hunger policies.

We look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack and the Biden-Harris Administration to fulfill our vision that “no one should go hungry.”


The Foodbank gifts box truck to Wesley Community Center

The Foodbank gifts box truck to Wesley Community Center

How we are continuing to grow our agency capacity work to better serve the Miami Valley

By: Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, Outreach/SNAP Lead

While The Foodbank’s direct service programs, such as the Drive Thru food pantry and our Mobile Farmers Markets, receive a lot of attention, the heart of our mission is still the daily acquisition and distribution of food.

In September, our Drive Thru and mobiles served a total of 5,158 households, while our partner agency food pantries alone served 14,295 families. By acquiring and distributing food for these food pantries as well as soup kitchens, emergency shelters, and other hunger relief organizations, we magnify our impact across the Miami Valley.

Additionally, while our primary mission is to provide food to people experiencing food insecurity, our partner agencies work directly in their respective communities. Many of them provide services far beyond food assistance, such as financial assistance, which makes them better positioned to address the root causes of poverty.

But our partner agencies face challenges of their own. Many of them are staffed by older individuals who are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19. At the height of the pandemic, only 75 of our 120 partner agencies were still open and serving people. 

So how do we support the work our partner agencies do? With capacity building support such as helping our partner agencies apply for grant funding, re-granting funding to them, and donating used equipment. At the height of COVID-19-related closures, we re-granted over $190,000 to the partner agencies that remained open to support their work.

Most recently, The Foodbank was able to donate a refrigerated box truck to the Wesley Community Center, one of our partner agencies. The Wesley Center operates a food pantry and Kids Cafe meal site. We selected the winner of the truck with a raffle.

 

 

Wesley Center staff received their truck at an October 14 key turnover event.

The mission of the Wesley Community Center is to meet the spiritual and basic needs of families of all ages offering assistance in education and training, employment, and human assistance in transitioning families toward self-sufficiency. 

The Wesley Center was established in 1966 as a response to the Civil Rights movement to bring the Miami Valley together in a time of unrest. They were founded under what is now known as the Miami Valley District of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church and continue to be a safe haven for Dayton area families in times of need. 

Cheryl Cole of the Wesley Center said the box truck will enable the center to host off site food distributions for families that have difficulty getting to a pantry. It will also allow the center to provide food for seniors living in senior apartments and villages.

“Having this truck opens a whole new door for Wesley to serve the surrounding communities,” Cheryl Cole of the Wesley Center said. 

The Foodbank acquires and distributes food to 116 other agencies just like the Wesley Center. As part of our commitment to shortening our line, we also want to make sure our agencies have everything they need to make that possible as well.

The heart of the work we do is centered around our agencies and the incredible staff and volunteers that help make it happen. We will continue to say time and time again that hunger does not work in silos. It stems from many issues such as mental illness, domestic violence, homelessness — the list goes on. With the help of our agencies, we know that if we combat hunger, we can then begin the fight to address the other social determinants that lead to a healthy life.

Given the volume of agencies we work with, we can always find a pantry or other program that fits your schedule. You can locate a pantry near you by calling 937-238-5132. A full list of agencies is available on our website

To learn more about the Wesley Center and its mission, visit their website.


The “Heat or Eat” Dilemma

The “Heat or Eat” Dilemma

How heating and cooling costs contribute to seasonal increases in food insecurity

By: Emily Gallion, Grants & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager and Caitlyn McIntosh, Outreach/SNAP Lead

For the millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, any variability in cost of living expenses can bring hardship. In Northern states like Ohio, increases in utility costs during cooler months can lead to a dilemma: pay your utility bill or purchase food?

According to a 2018 US Energy Information Administration report, nearly one in three American households struggle to pay utility bills. About one in five households also reported forgoing basic necessities, such as food or medication, to pay energy bills.

The challenges low income households face to pay their utility bills highlights a grim paradox: It’s expensive to live in poverty. While a wealthier household can afford to make necessary efficiency improvements, such as installing insulation, that will reduce their heating and cooling costs in the long term, many lower income households do whatever they can to make ends meet.

This may help explain the relationship between a family’s “energy burden” and their ability to move out of poverty. A November 2019 study of households living below the poverty line found that families that were “energy burdened” — or spending 10% or more of their income on energy costs — had more difficulty escaping and staying out of poverty.

In fact, the households that were energy burdened were both twice as unlikely to see their income rise above the federal poverty limit and twice as likely to fall into poverty.

This issue is particularly striking in rural communities. According to a study from US News & World Report, rural low-income families spend three times more of their income on energy bills than any other part of the country. Many families are then forced to restrict their food budget in order to pay their bills.

Yvonne, a Foodbank client who visits our mobile food pantry in Xenia, says “food is the only budget you can adjust,” she added in. “You can’t change the water bill.”

While many low-income households do try to adjust their energy bills by rationing natural gas and electricity, during Ohio winters, families reach the point where they’re forced to turn up the heat to avoid pipes bursting.

Although energy costs in Ohio are below the national average, families at the lowest income levels still face a high energy burden. Similar to other areas, Ohio counties that are rural face higher energy burdens than urban areas.

An interactive study from The Atlantic shows that Preble County residents living below 50% of the federal poverty limit (FPL) spend a staggering 36.7% of their income on energy bills. Greene County residents living at the same income levels spend about 30.9% and 29.3% for Montgomery County.

There are many factors that contribute to higher energy burdens on rural households, including higher rates of poverty. Rural areas are also more likely to have homes that are older and less energy efficient. They are also more likely to use more expensive fuel sources, such as propane, to heat their homes. This may explain why poor residents of Preble County have higher energy burdens than those of the same income levels in Montgomery County.

There is a racial justice component to energy costs as well. According to the Community Action Partnership, the utility disconnection rate among white households is 5.5%, but 11.3% among Black households.

These added pressures can be particularly worrisome for families trying to make it through the winter holidays. The Foodbank tends to see an increase in client visits during this time as families are preparing to make sure there is enough food on their tables. In 2019, our drive thru saw one of its largest service dates on the Friday before Thanksgiving, serving 425 households.

Fortunately, programs exist for people struggling to make their utility payments. The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is available to Ohioans living at or below 175% of the federal poverty limit. This program will pay one home energy bill for qualifying applicants each year.

In addition to HEAP, the Ohio Development Services Agency operates two programs for households that have been disconnected, are at risk of disconnection, or have less than a 25 percent supply of bulk fuel in their tank. The Winter and Summer Crisis Programs provide assistance to qualifying residents living at or below 175% the federal poverty limit (see above). To qualify for emergency assistance, households must sign up for a payment plan such as the Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP), which caps energy expenditures at 6% (natural gas users) or 10% (electricity users).

Community Action Agencies exist to provide financial support to low-income families working towards becoming self-sufficient. Assistance is available for utility bills, rental assistance, and more. To find a local agency near you, visit the Community Action Partnership’s website.

While The Foodbank’s vision is that no one should go hungry, we also know that hunger does not operate in silos. Part of our work also includes finding additional resources to stabilize the lives of families in our line.

For more information on programs and resources in the Dayton area, visit United Way’s website at https://dayton-unitedway.org/ or by calling 2-1-1.

 


SNAP is critical to our hunger relief work – here’s why

SNAP is critical to our hunger relief work – here’s why

9.5 million American families depend on SNAP to make ends meet

By: Emily Gallion, Grants & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, Outreach/SNAP Lead

In times of crisis, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger. This program is critical now more than ever.

According to a report funded by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), the number of American adults who are food insecure has reached 29 million — nearly three times as many as two years ago. Food insecurity rates are twice as high among Black and Latino households.

In The Foodbank’s own service area of Montgomery, Greene, and Preble counties, Feeding America estimated the number of food insecure individuals would reach 144,210 people in the wake of the pandemic.

We are doing everything in our power to acquire and distribute enough food to serve families in need of assistance during this difficult time. For decades, SNAP has provided critical support to the work we do.

A Snapshot of the Program

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as the Food Stamps Program (FSP), originated from a 1939 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program in which participants purchased physical stamps.

For every $1 of orange stamps, which could be redeemed for any food item that an individual purchased, they would receive 50 cents’ worth of blue stamps, which could only be used on foods designated surplus by the USDA.

The program underwent a series of revisions and became permanent in 1964 under the Food Stamp Act. Physical food stamps were transitioned to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards during the 2000s. The program was renamed SNAP in 2008.

Currently, anyone living at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Limit is eligible to receive SNAP benefits. A household of four people must make less than $2,790 a month to be eligible for the program. The same household can receive a maximum monthly allotment of $646, scaled based on income.

For more information about SNAP eligibility, visit the USDA’s SNAP FAQ page.

Nationwide, 9.5 million households depend on SNAP. As critical as food banks are to relieving hunger, for every meal provided by a Feeding America food bank, SNAP provides nine. We emphasize how important SNAP is because we know how difficult it would be to meet the needs of our community without it.

SNAP in Action During COVID-19

One of the reasons SNAP is so effective is it provides a pre-existing structure for emergency relief in times of economic difficulties. A clear example of this is the Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT), which was deployed earlier this year.

This year has been incredibly challenging for everyone, but an even bigger burden was placed on families who were already struggling with food insecurity. P-EBT was created as a first line of defense for those families.

The P-EBT program was created as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 to provide kindergarten through 12th grade children with temporary SNAP benefits. Children who qualify for free or reduced meals will receive $5.70 in SNAP benefits for each day school is closed due to COVID-19.

On September 5th, the Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services received approval to expand this program for kids who are learning virtually for the 2020-2021 school year.

For more information on the P-EBT program, visit the ODJFS website.

In addition to helping families afford a nutritious diet, SNAP is also a huge factor in stimulating the economy. Every $1 of SNAP benefits injects $1.50 back into the economy. This system is very beneficial in recessions, or in 2020’s case — a pandemic, when people are underemployed or unemployed all together. SNAP gives people a safety net for those choosing between paying for food and everyday expenses.

Room to Grow

While SNAP is an incredibly effective tool to increase families’ food security, it typically does not cover the full cost of a low-cost diet. According to a 2018 study by Feeding America and the Urban Institute, in 99 percent of US counties, the maximum SNAP per meal benefit is lower than the average cost of a meal.

In Montgomery, Greene, and Preble counties of Ohio, the maximum SNAP per-meal benefit is $1.86, while the average meal costs $2.15. Click here to view the interactive map of the study’s findings.

As a consequence of this shortfall, SNAP households engage in a multitude of coping strategies to make ends meet. These include visiting food pantries, changing the size or frequency of meals, buying food on clearance, and other strategies, according to a 2018 study by Feeding America and American University.

However, nearly 60 percent of the households surveyed had one or more family members with a chronic illness or disability. The authors of the study noted that some of these strategies “may in fact undermine the quantity and the quality of food they consume, which may exacerbate their health conditions.”

SNAP is a life saving program. Feeding America is urging the nation’s political leaders to increase SNAP benefits by 15% due to the drastic impact the pandemic has had on families across America. Increasing SNAP will boost the economy and help keep American families out of poverty during this already difficult time.

Want to help out? You can use this tool to contact your representatives here.

As times remain uncertain, we are working harder than ever to ensure that no one goes hungry. To keep up with our SNAP and other hunger relief efforts, follow us on social media @thefoodbankinc.


Hunger Action Month 2020: ending hunger one helping at a time

Hunger Action Month 2020: ending hunger one helping at a time

Looking for ways to advocate for your neighbors this September? Here are some ideas.

By: Emily Gallion, Grants and Advocacy Manager and Caitlyn McIntosh, Outreach/SNAP Lead

Hunger Action Month, established by Feeding America in 2008, aims to rally Americans around this issue of food insecurity in America. In 2018, over 37 million individuals were identified as food insecure in Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap study

In the wake of COVID-19, Feeding America estimated that total would rise to 54 million.

We know that 2020 has been an unusual year. Many of the activities we typically recommend in September, such as hosting events, are high risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve compiled a list of COVID-friendly Hunger Action Month activities instead.

Educate yourself on hunger in America

It can be difficult for some to understand how the wealthiest nation in the world can have a hunger problem — but the hard truth is that hunger exists as close as your neighborhood. The story of families living paycheck to paycheck is all too common. After housing, transportation, and utility expenses, there is oftentimes not enough leftover to pay for food. By educating yourself on these sobering realities, you can better understand how to help others.

Share a #HungerActionMonth post

Education is powerful. We understand that not everyone is able to donate their time or money, but those are not the only two ways to get involved during Hunger Action Month. It can be as easy as sharing a social media link to spread the word to your friends that hunger is important! If there’s one thing we know to be true, is that there are many myths in the food assistance network and we need all the help we can get to debunk them. 

Make a donation to your local pantry or food bank

Food pantries and food banks both rely on generous donors to keep business running. Whether your donation is food or monetary, it will go directly back into your community to help a family in need. To donate to The Foodbank, please visit thefoodbankdayton.org/donate. Every dollar donated creates six meals!

Contact your local representatives about hunger

Social media and word of mouth are great education sources, but if there’s one thing we know to be true at The Foodbank it’s that change does not happen in a silo. Reaching out to your local representatives can be the catalyst to making a change. Whether it’s asking for a SNAP increase, additional COVID-19 relief funds, or funding for school pantries, advocating for others truly makes a difference.

Wear orange on Hunger Action Day

While the entire month of September is focused on taking action to end hunger, Feeding America has also declared a Hunger Action Day– which falls on September 10th this year. By wearing orange you can help spread awareness of Hunger Action Month and encourage others to also participate in ending hunger. 

Volunteer

Due to social distancing guidelines, some organizations are not accepting volunteers to ensure everyone’s safety. While you cannot volunteer in our warehouse, we have off-site and virtual opportunities that still allow you to help your community. Keep an eye out on our website and social media pages to keep up to date with upcoming opportunities. 

Set up a fundraiser

While it is difficult for us to be together right now, setting up a fundraiser is a great way to keep your organization, office, or team virtually together. Whether it’s a Facebook fundraiser or sites like YouGiveGoods, there are plenty of opportunities for you to make a difference. Leave some fundraiser suggestions for others in the comments below!

Grow food for you, your neighbors, or food bank

At The Foodbank, we have a 75 raised bed garden full of fresh produce that we grow for the Dayton community. Gardening is a fun and interactive way to get the family working towards a goal. If you want to be a real rockstar, you can even learn how to compost your own food waste to give your garden some extra life!

Talk to your children about hunger

There are 32,750 children in the Miami Valley who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. These children are your neighbors, classmates, and your friends. How can you and your family be advocates for these children? Feeding America has put together a Family Action Plan to assist families in speaking to their children about hunger and how it makes us feel. There are plenty of activities for you and your children to complete together and learn as a family.

Follow us on social media

Something is always going on here at The Foodbank! Volunteer opportunities, mobile pantries, mass distributions, and fun events are always posted on our social media pages. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIN, and YouTube at thefoodbankinc. 


Shortening the line: why we hire re-entry

Shortening the line: why we hire re-entry

About one-third of our 47-person team has previously been incarcerated. Here’s why that matters.

By: Emily Gallion, Grants and Advocacy Manager and Caitlyn McIntosh, Development Manager

For many people, a job is about earning a paycheck and putting food on the table. For Shane, a Foodbank employee, it’s a chance to save lives and give back while maintaining his sobriety.

“I’ve known so many people who have died,” he said. “It’s life or death for me.”

Shane is one of about one-third of our staff that has previously been involved in the criminal justice system. 

While the heart of The Foodbank’s mission is to relieve hunger in the Miami Valley through our partner agencies and other services, we also have an obligation to “shorten the line” at our pantries by addressing the root causes of food insecurity. 

Our passion for reentry work is just one of the ways we achieve this goal. As stated in our diversity statement, we will continue to engage in equity work until there is justice for all. 

 

Understanding Mass Incarceration

In the United States, nearly 1.5 million people are incarcerated in state or federal prison. Our nation has more people in prison per capita than any other nation in the world. Much like hunger, there can be many other issues at hand behind committing a crime. 

Over incarceration contributes to the cycle of poverty and contributes to systemic inequality, especially for Black families and people of color. Despite making up only 13% of the United States population, Black Americans make up a shocking 40% of those incarcerated

After being incarcerated, individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system are less able to accumulate wealth throughout their lives. In one study spanning 27 years, men who were incarcerated had less than one eighth the wealth of their peers who had never been incarcerated by the time they were 29-37 years old.

Despite dropping crime rates nationwide, prison populations have risen 500% in the last 40 years. Mass incarceration contributes to many issues central to our work, including generational poverty, racial inequality, and reduced income for the families of those incarcerated.

Other major contributors in mass incarceration are the bail system and the cost of low-level offenses. Nearly 74% of people held in jail have not yet been convicted of a crime, but are awaiting trial in custody as a result of failure to pay massive bail charges. 

Additionally, those who face misdemeanor charges are often not appointed counsel, forcing them to plead guilty and face life-threatening consequences such as losing their job, strict monitoring regulations, and high court fines.

To do our part to help stabilize families in our community and shorten the lines at our pantries, The Foodbank actively hires people who have a criminal record.

We provide a livable base wage of $15/hr, as well as paid health and life insurance, 401k match, a flexible schedule to allow employees to attend court dates, help in finding legal services when necessary, and other support as needed. 

We believe that our own high-performing team is evidence that this section of our population deserves to be invested in.

 

Shane’s Story

Shane attended Stebbins High School in Riverside, Ohio where he completed his 11th grade year before leaving in 1995. Over the course of the next 12 years, he obtained his GED, a job managing a local car wash, and even got married. It wasn’t until 2007, after suffering a major loss in his family, that Shane would encounter the justice system for the first time.

After battling addiction, Shane received an F5 felony conviction for grand theft. In lieu of his conviction, he received five years of probation in both Montgomery and Greene counties and was referred to the MonDay program.

There are several services in the Miami Valley that aim to provide rehabilitation services to those currently incarcerated. The MonDay Program, provided by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction, is one of them. 

Felony offenders are referred to the MonDay Program and participate in a variety of counseling, vocational, and education programs to ensure their readiness to integrate back into society.

Once he completed his probation requirements, Shane continued to battle addiction as he suffered more family tragedy and the loss of his job. In 2017, he received another F5 conviction for breaking and entering.

Following this charge, he would fail his probation requirements and complete the STOP Program twice. Over the course of his addiction, he would suffer 24 overdoses.

In 2019, he made the decision to change his life. He completed an inpatient treatment program at the Christopher House, and will celebrate one year of sobriety on November 19, 2020. 

 

Pathways to Change

The heart of reentry work is providing services to those leaving the criminal justice system to ensure a successful transition back into society. These services are critical in reducing the risk of reoffending. 

In addition to the MonDay Program, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Corrections provides many other reentry programs. 

The Office of Enterprise Development (OED) creates training programs with private sector businesses to provide job training and opportunities for inmates in order for a successful transition into the workforce.

Several corrections institutions across Ohio host programs that allow inmates to train and care for rescue dogs. Once the dogs complete their training, they are released to veterans as service dogs or as a new member of a family.

The Secure Transitional Offender Program (STOP), operated through the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, is a similar program that helps develop positive change in the lives of both male and female probationers through intensive intervention programs. People enrolled in the STOP Program and MonDay Program regularly volunteer with The Foodbank.

The hard work of the people enrolled in these programs are invaluable to our work here at The Foodbank. We have hired several individuals who have graduated from these programs.

 While parole and probation are a positive alternative to incarceration, they each still hold their own unique issues. Only about 50% of probationers complete the terms of their supervision. Curfew, drug use, and other strict regulations can be grounds for probation or parole to be terminated.

This is consistent with Shane’s experience — it took several tries for him to finally land on his feet. Stories like his can be found through all levels of the justice system.

Shane, who finishes his first 90 days with The Foodbank next week, said he appreciates the diversity and team-oriented atmosphere at The Foodbank.

“I just hope to be able to help somebody,” he said. “That’s what my life is based on now.”

While many employers balk at the idea of hiring people with felony convictions, it’s a strategy that has worked well for us at The Foodbank. Hiring re-entry offers people who are ready to start a new chapter in their lives another chance, which has been beneficial to both us and them. 

In 2018, The Foodbank was rated the #2 food bank in the nation. Without the support of our team, including those who have experiences within the criminal justice system, these accolades would not be possible.

To learn more about our work, read our impact statement here.


For older adults, hunger hides in plain sight

For older adults, hunger hides in plain sight

Poverty, mobility challenges, and health expenses contribute to food insecurity among seniors. Here’s how federal programs and The Foodbank help out.

By: Caitlyn McIntosh, Development Manager and Emily Gallion, Grants & Advocacy Manager

Many of us already know that older adults are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19. But the pandemic isn’t the only health crisis impacting older adults.

While Americans may not think of hunger as an issue that affects our seniors, they face higher rates of food insecurity than the general population. In Ohio, over one in ten seniors struggle with food insecurity.

This is of particular concern in the era of COVID-19. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, the availability and affordability of food can impact nearly every aspect of an individual’s health. The pandemic has disrupted senior’s food sources by forcing the closure of community centers and other programs older low-income adults use to access food.

With 28 percent of Americans living without any savings at all, any economic disruption or short-term emergency can make it difficult for individuals — including seniors, who often live on fixed-incomes — to obtain enough food to eat.

With aging comes dietary changes that require a higher intake of nutrients such as protein and calcium. Unfortunately, one in two seniors are at risk for malnutrition related to difficulty chewing and swallowing, losses or changes in appetite, and physical or mental health challenges.

Eating nutrient specific foods creates a financial burden on senior households who are already living with income constraints. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, also known as the senior box program, was created by the USDA to meet the specific dietary needs of the senior population.

Congress appropriated $222.891 million for CSFP in fiscal year 2019 in order to provide this box at no cost to participants. The program is available in all 50 states to individuals living at or below 130 percent of the Federal Poverty line.

The Foodbank, Inc. distributes 1,020 boxes to seniors in Montgomery and Greene counties at 18 different distribution sites. To enroll in the senior box program, prospective recipients must fill out an application and meet the income requirements, both of which can be found on our website.

The pandemic has had a detrimental effect on families across the world, so it was no surprise to us when applications for the CSFP program came pouring in. Food banks have a limited caseload of seniors they are able to serve through this program each month. We reached our capacity for this program on March 12, 2020.

Once the program reaches capacity, we are still able to take applications and place them on a waitlist. As spots open up, they are filled on a first-come-first-serve basis. At the time of writing this post, there are still 95 people on the CSFP waitlist.

People who are waitlisted or declined from the program are still eligible to receive food through other Foodbank programs, however. We regularly refer individuals to their local pantry, Mobile Farmers Market, or our Drive Thru Food Pantry when they are not yet able to or not eligible to receive a CSFP box. We also bring boxes of non-federal food to our senior food box distributions so nobody goes home without something to eat.

Another federal program that benefits seniors is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps. SNAP is available to all adults who meet income guidelines of 130 percent of the federal poverty limit, or $12,760 annually for a household of one.

SNAP is an especially valuable tool in the fight against food insecurity because it allows recipients to have purchasing power. A senior who has specific dietary restrictions is able to purchase the food they need directly at the store. This approach has economic benefits as well: every $1 provided through SNAP generates $1.50-$1.80 in economic activity, according to 2019 calculations from the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (2018 data).

However, there are particular challenges to using SNAP to combat hunger among our seniors. Participation in this program for adults over the age of 60 is particularly low. To apply for SNAP, potential recipients must use a phone or computer, print off and mail an application, or be able to find application assistance with a local agency.

Due in part to these obstacles, it is estimated that only 2 in 5 eligible seniors participate in the program, according to the National Council on Aging.

SNAP utilization rates are much lower for older adults in Ohio.

In addition to the barriers to apply, seniors who receive SNAP benefits must visit the grocery store to use them. This presents a risk of exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable seniors, and can also be difficult for older adults who do not have transportation or who are living with a disability. About one in three food insecure seniors are disabled.

While all individuals who are food insecure face an increased risk of certain health outcomes, seniors face a unique situation. According to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), older adults living with food insecurity experience increased rates of a myriad of health problems, including asthma, congestive heart failure, hypertension, malnutrition, depression, and obesity resulting from consuming high-calorie/low nutrient food.

Older adults, who often live on fixed incomes and struggle with high medical costs, also utilize a number of dangerous coping mechanisms to stretch their budget, including forgoing necessary medications and preventative medical treatment, leading to higher medical costs and worse health in the long term.

Data from FRAC shows that older adults who are food insecure are much more likely to stretch their household budget by rationing or discontinuing prescribed medications.

Are you or somebody you know in need of assistance? The following resources may help:

  • For more information about our CSFP Program, contact Katie Ly, Programs Manager, at KLy@thefoodbankdayton.org and 937-461-0265 x33, or Yiselle Heredia, Data Entry/CSFP Specialist at YHeredia@thefoodbankdayton.org and 937-461-0265 x19
  • The Foodbank holds Mobile Farmers Markets in many locations in the community. Visit our website to view our schedule.
  • Anyone in need of food assistance may also visit our weekly onsite drive thru. Hours can be found on our website as well as our social media channels
  • For SNAP application assistance, contact Colette Looney, SNAP Coordinator, at CLooney@thefoodbankdayton.org and 937-461-0265 x37

 


The Social Determinants of Health: Connecting the dots between race, health equity, and the food landscape

The Social Determinants of Health: Connecting the dots between race, health equity, and the food landscape

How racial differences in food access contribute to poorer health outcomes for communities of color

By: Caitlyn McIntosh, Development Manager and Emily Gallion, Grant & Advocacy Manager

You may have seen headlines recently that Black communities are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis. Nationally, Black individuals account for about double the proportion of the COVID-19 death toll as the portion of the overall population they represent.

Some public health officials have received criticism for suggesting that the correlation is primarily due to higher rates of obesity and other chronic diseases among the Black community. However, the relationship between chronic diseases, race, poverty, and food insecurity is much more complicated, and it has everything to do with the social determinants of health.

While “social determinants of health” may seem to be a relatively new term in the public health space, it was used as early as 2004 by the World Health Organization (WHO), which defines it as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.” 

The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) has also recognized the social determinants of health, defining it as “life-enhancing resources, such as food supply, housing, economic and social relationships, transportation, education, and health care, whose distribution across populations effectively determines length and quality of life.” 

A growing body of research suggests that these resources can have a profound effect on an individual’s health – even the length of their life – and that the unequal distribution of these resources contributes to inequity in the healthcare system.

We at The Foodbank are not experts in public health. However, we do have a responsibility to stay knowledgeable about the way food insecurity intersects with other aspects of people’s wellbeing. In fact, food insecurity is closely linked to health outcomes later in life.

While the terms “food insecurity” and “hunger” are sometimes used interchangeably, “hunger” refers to the physical feeling associated with a lack of food, but food insecurity, defined as the ability to obtain enough food to live a healthy, active lifestyle, is a much more complex issue. 

As such, not all people experiencing food insecurity are necessarily starving, and many experience higher-than-average rates of obesity. This may be due to the survival strategy of purchasing cheaper, calorie-dense foods to meet basic dietary needs. Over time, this contributes to issues such as obesity, and heart disease.

According to Feeding America’s Hunger in America 2014 study, over one in five Feeding America households report having to choose between purchasing food and paying for medical expenses every month

Food insecurity and poor health outcomes also contribute to a cycle of poverty and poor health, which keeps families trapped in patterns that can last generations. Many Feeding America households report having to choose between buying food and paying for medical care. Coping mechanisms such as underusing medications, avoiding preventative care, and failure to adhere to a medically-necessary diet (such as for treatment for diabetes) can lead to higher medical costs and poorer health in the long-term.

As people return to work, concerns of food security are still highly prevalent. Ohio food insecurity rates have doubled due to the coronavirus, jumping from 13.9% to 23%. We saw that same trend here at The Foodbank with visits to our drive thru pantry. About 2,000 families came to visit us in February and 4,684 came in March. Our numbers continued to rise throughout April, finishing out at over 8,000 families.

According to the Dayton Daily News, one in seven Ohioans are still unemployed. Many families are still focusing on trying to pay rent, mortgages, and other bills, leaving little to no room for a food budget. At our June 6 mass distribution in Greene County, we saw 667 families. What is unique about this distribution is that of those families, 521 were new to the food assistance network. This tells us that although many businesses have been able to reopen, people are still seeing emergencies everyday as a result of the pandemic.

Another often-cited contributor to health outcomes is food access, namely, whether an individual lives in a food desert. An area is defined as a food desert if it is high-poverty with no neighborhood supermarket. (The USDA includes several levels to this definition, which include the percent of individuals with access to transportation, the percent of people living in poverty, and even an area’s rural or urban classification.)

Food access and food insecurity are distinct as food insecurity refers to an individual’s ability to afford food (a function of poverty) whereas food access refers to an individual’s ability to obtain food (a function of environment and geography, which is also a function of poverty). Somebody with low food insecurity may live down the block from a supermarket, but still be unable to afford food, while somebody living in a food desert may be able to afford healthy food, but have no grocery stores nearby.

Living in a food desert is associated with similar health outcomes as food insecurity, including substantially increased risks of obesity and diabetes. Families living in food deserts are often forced to shop at corner markets and convenience stores, which typically offer limited, high-cost, or low-quality selections of fresh produce and protein items.

Food access and food equity go hand-in-hand because areas that are USDA-recognized food deserts are disproportionately communities of color and high-poverty areas. While food access is inherently regional, research from the New York Law School Racial Justice Project has estimated that Black and Latino households are half as likely and one-third as likely to have access to a supermarket, respectively.

A screencap of the USDA’s Food Access Atlas, which shows geographic regions that are low income (LI) and low food access (LA) at varying distances from the supermarket. The Foodbank’s service territory is outlined in black.

In addition to food access issues, food insecurity itself is also racialized. In the United states, 21.2% of Black households, 16.2% of Hispanic households and 10.2% of other/non-hispanic households were food insecure in 2018, compared to 8.1% of white households.

So, what does all of this have to do with COVID-19?

While it may be simple to explain the correlation between race and COVID-19 deaths as due to obesity rates — implicitly blaming victims for overeating — this ignores the reality that many people in high-poverty, predominantly black areas face factors beyond their control that contribute to poor health, such as an inability to afford healthy food or an inability to travel to obtain it.

In fact, a June 10 working paper by MIT researchers found that even after controlling for income level, health insurance coverage, rates of chronic disease such as obesity and diabetes, and public transit usage, counties with higher numbers of Black residents had higher rates of COVID-19 infections.

According to Chris Knittel, the study’s senior author, we have to look beyond these simple explanations to understand why the Black community is facing such a high toll in the COVID-19 crisis.

“The causal mechanism has to be something else,” said Knittel. “If I were a public official, I’d be looking at differences in the quality of insurance, conditions such as chronic stress, and systemic discrimination.”

To see the actions we are taking to promote equitable access to food in our service area, view our impact statement here.

If you’re curious about more of our network data or other social issues such as these, follow us @thefoodbankinc on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and Linkedin!