By Amber Wright, Development and Marketing Coordinator
The holidays are over, the ball has dropped, and we have entered a brand-new calendar year. As we refresh our list of New Year’s resolutions, let us also look back and reflect on the progress we made during 2023.
Making Resources More Accessible
The Foodbank kicked off 2023 with the announcement of our new mission statement: “Eliminating hunger and its root causes.” We understand that we can’t solve hunger with food alone, so we have expanded our focus to address the policies and conditions causing people to seek food assistance in the first place. We want to feed the line today but shorten the line for tomorrow.
The new mission statement comes with a 5-year strategic plan, which outlines the steps we want to take to address social determinants of health in our fight against hunger. By forming a strategic initiatives team, we have begun the process of closely monitoring policy issues, building stronger relationships with elected officials, and developing ways to provide more support and wrap-around services to the people we serve.
One of the programs we started last year is our SNAP Outreach program, which helps people applying for benefits navigate the 16-page application process. We also had three of our staff certified by Kettering College as Community Health Workers, collaborating with the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association within the Dayton Regional Pathways HUB program. These certified employees will work one-on-one to connect our neighbors to community resources outside our own – like housing, transportation, medical care, cribs, diapers, and much more.
Our new commitment to advocating for policy change and building relationships with political leaders started strong. Last year The Foodbank sent staff to the state capital during the Ohio Association of Foodbank’s Lobby Day. Our representatives spoke with Senator Bob Hackett and the office of Niraj Antani about the importance of funding critical social programs. Foodbank staff also attended a rally at the statehouse to speak out against potential cuts. These efforts had a successful outcome.
Another win during 2023 was securing funding for a new, additional building centered around community outreach. We held Community Conversations to survey our neighbors from ZIP codes with the highest need about services they would like to see offered in this new space. After receiving a ton of great feedback, we have begun designing a building to facilitate those requests.
Last year we also debuted our new and improved website, featuring a Pantry Locator Tool. Now people seeking food assistance can easily access a list of pantries available to them just by typing in their ZIP code. Like most of our efforts, we continue to work toward making resources more accessible.
Meeting Higher Demand for Food Assistance
Rates of hunger have continued to rise. A notable change in 2023 was the end of the pandemic-era benefits, which kept many households afloat among rapidly increasing costs of living. When this crucial support disappeared, we saw another spike in service visits as more people turned to us and our network of partner agencies for assistance.
Our data shows that people are also using our services for longer periods, revealing that it is harder for families to recover in the recent economic climate. This trend of elevated need has been in place since the 2019 Memorial Day Tornados devastated entire communities in our service area. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic brought even more people to our food lines, followed by persistent inflation and high food costs over the next few years.
Our data aligns with the findings of the USDA’s Household Food Security in 2022 study, which reported national rates of hunger also increasing since the pandemic. These grim statistics have made our advocacy efforts even more important as we petition legislatures to fund nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC in the Farm Bill.
Growth in the Garden
The Foodbank’s Urban Garden and Greenhouse continue to thrive. We harvested more than 33,000 pounds of produce from our raised garden beds in 2023. We also grew more than 85,000 heads of lettuce from our hydroponic greenhouse since it first started at the end of 2021. This fresh, nutritious food was promptly distributed through our network of partner agencies or in our weekly Drive-thru, effectively cutting the time it travels from farm to plate.
Our industrial composting system processed over 100,000 pounds (about 45359.2 kg) of food scraps, cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions and providing a nutrient-rich soil additive for our raised garden beds. This system attracted national attention last year as well.
The Foodbank partnered with composting facilities across the nation for the largest-ever pilot study on the breakdown of compostable packaging materials. Using our existing set-up, we tested different materials to see how quickly they broke down with our composting method and in our climate. We were the only food bank to participate. The results will be published in February.
Later in the year, we hosted the “Beyond Wasted Food” compost event. We were fortunate to have in attendance keynote speaker Michael Bryan Brown (Founder of Green Mountain Technologies) and Commissioner Judy Dodge, who has been a true champion of our work. This event was organized in collaboration with the Ohio Organics Council and funded by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
The Foodbank was also recognized by the Montgomery County Food Equity Coalition for our composting initiatives. Garden Manager James Hoffer was awarded for developing and running our current processes, which stand as an example to other food banks and community organizations wanting to do the same.
We are proud of all the work we accomplished in 2023 and hope to do even more this year. We are planning to start the construction of our new building and continue to seek out partnerships with other community organizations to make more resources more accessible.
Our thoughts remain focused on our vision of a future where no one goes hungry. With the support of our partners, donors, and volunteers, we are well on our way.