Confronting food scarcity: Dare to Care challenging traditional food bank model

08/24/2017 11:42 AM

Editor’s Note: This is part two in a three part series on confronting food scarcity. Part One can be viewed here.

On Thanksgiving Eve in 1969, nine-year old Bobby Ellis died of malnutrition in Louisville. The next morning, people across the region picked up their copy of The Courier-Journal and read how social workers found Ellis in bed weighing only 20 pounds.

As Dare to Care Food Bank’s Stan Siegwald explains, the tragedy mobilized a community and was the catalyst that led to the creation of the organization. Siegwald says it was the community’s answer to preventing a death like Ellis’ from happening again.

“We are this community’s response, this community’s hands and heart to work to make sure that everyone in our community has the food they need to be healthy,” said Siegwald.

Dare to Care services the Kentuckiana area, which is primarily made up of the Louisville metropolitan area but includes eight counties in Kentucky (Jefferson, Oldham, Bullitt, Meade, Shelby, Trimble, Henry and Spencer) and five Indiana counties (Clark, Floyd, Harrison, Scott and Washington).

Dare to Care’s role is to harvest excess food and distribute it to populations in need. The organization uses a network of other nonprofits throughout the area to then distribute that food.

You can find more information about Dare to Care and the area they serve here .

Siegwald says that one in six people in the area they serve is food insecure and that food insecurity impacts every demographic.

“There is no one food insecurity or food hardship,” Siegwald said. “It’s in every zip code, it’s every demographic.”

Siegwald explains that food insecurity is created by a barrier between people and access to the food they need. He says that a lack of access can be created by a variety of obstacles.

“The access issue could be because you live in a food desert,” Siegwald said. “It could also be created because you don’t have the money to buy the food you need and that could happen if you live right next door to a retail grocer. “

The USDA defines a food desert as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” The agency attributes these deserts to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets and other healthy food providers.

Siegwald says that there are many neighborhoods where grocery stores are not close and accessible, and the problem can be compounded by a lack of access to transportation. He says that Dare to Care is working with others to figure out how they can help address the problems that food deserts create.

Siegwald says that food banks have evolved significantly over time, and that Dare to Care has grown from playing a passive role to a proactive one. He explains that when food banks first started, they collected a large portion of their food when companies made mistakes, such as products that didn’t sell well or an error in a packaging label. Now, however, Siegwald says they deliver more than just calories.

“What has been evolving over the past 15 years is that recognition that we can do more, that we can do more than just delivering calories that we should be delivering health,” Siegwald said. “So what we have begun is to be more proactive, no longer are we passive.”

That evolution is reflected in equipment and the employees of the food bank. Today, Dare to Care has refrigerated trucks and a dietitian on staff. That dietitian oversees a nutrition education program. That program teaches people how to eat healthy, shop for food and prepare it in a healthy way. Siegwald says the program also helps people clear an access hurdle.

“If you’re struggling to access the food you need, it’s perhaps because of your financial situation. It could also be knowledge,” Siegwald said. “The cooking knowledge class helps address that.”

There are different challenges that food banks face in obtaining and distributing food. Siegwald explains that they have a responsibility to get nutritious food into the community and to distribute it as effectively as possible.

Siegwald says that when the economy crashed in 2008, the need in Dare to Care’s service area doubled. Meaning, many people who didn’t need assistance accessing food before now needed help. In order to reach those people, Dare to Care works with a network of organizations throughout the community.

“We partner with all these agencies, 270 other nonprofits, but how are we working with them in the most effective way to make sure that those folks that need us most are getting what they need,” Siegwald said.

Today there are still many people in need of help in every zip code and county and pin pointing all of those needing assistance isn’t always easy. Dare to Care is exploring ways to better target its efforts and creatively get food where it is needed. Siegwald says that they look at what other food banks across the country are doing to see what innovations are being tested and to find what is working.

“There are food banks around the country that are doing some things that we are looking at,” Siegwald said. “In Cincinnati, they have what they call the healthy harvest mobile market, which is really a farmers market in a trailer.”

“We can distill what’s working what’s not working in other communities so we can come back and bring those services to Kentuckiana,” Siegwald said.

Dare to Care runs a variety of programs through partnerships with different organizations to help them collect and distribute food.

One of the programs that Dare to Care takes part in is Farms to Food Banks, a program created and funded by the Kentucky Agriculture Department and the Governor’s office. The program gives Dare to Care funds to buy products from Kentucky farmers that they were not able to sell to retail grocery stores.

“An apple might not be perfectly round and bright red, it’s still nutritious,” Siegwald said. “It maybe wasn’t purchased by a retailer from the farmer, but that farmer can sell it to us at a set price they know they are going to receive. We get the apple and we can then get it into the hands of a family that is struggling.”

When it comes to distribution, one of the programs that Dare to Care runs is the Backpack Buddy Program. It is a weekend nutrition program for elementary school students. Siegwald says it started in 2005 and today the program is in more than 40 elementary schools in the area they serve.

“When we partner with a school, the school personnel identify the 50 children in that school that they believe are most at risk of hunger on the weekends,” Siegwald said. “These kids are getting breakfast and lunch when they’re at school, but on Saturday and Sunday – when they leave school on Friday—they are more at risk of not getting the nutrition they need.”

The school gets a bag of food that has been selected by Dare to Care’s registered dietitian. Siegwald describes the food as nutritious, child friendly and with packaging that children can open.

Dare to Care also partners with other organizations to help them with one of their biggest challenges – targeting.

Siegwald says that collecting and interpreting data is a key part in making sure that food is distributed to the people and areas that need it most. Dare to Care has partnered with the Greater Louisville Project to create new programs which help target neighborhoods with the greatest need.

“Trying to be more strategic and intentional in where our food is distributed,” Siegwald said. “That requires more information.”

Not only does more information help in targeting the parts of the community that have the greatest need, it also helps Dare to Care identify why that need exists. Siegwald explains that partnerships with organizations like The Greater Louisville Project and Louisville Metro government are essential in helping them collect and analyze that information.

“There are market studies that can be done. We’re a food bank. We don’t know how to do that,” Siegwald said. “But there are others that we can partner with that can help us get more data and more information about people’s lives; where they live, what they need, who they are and what barriers exactly are preventing them from getting the food they need.”

Siegwald says that the community has supported Dare to Care and allowed them to try new and creative ways to address food insecurity.

Siegwald says that food banks have come a long way and that they aren’t done. He wants to continue to improve and build upon the progress they have made. He believes that this is an exciting time for the community, with a lot of different people looking for creative ways to address food insecurity.

The biggest challenge is that there is no single answer.

“The problem is so big and the scale of it is so large that there are many different slices of causes, and therefore there are many different slices of possible solutions,” Siegwald said. “So our challenge going forward is to try to select, solution by solution, and be willing to experiment and try and see, does this work?”

Efforts to resolve food insecurity in Kentucky through advocates like Dare to Care and the UK Cooperative Extension are single pieces to a bigger puzzle. But, they do share one strategy in common – education. Both offer programs and provide information on topics ranging from managing a food budget to preparing healthy food.

Education is one piece of sustainable solutions for addressing food scarcity. Nonprofits, such as food banks, are able to be more effective through their partnerships with other organizations, and local and state government agencies.

Pure Politics’ examination of the ways food insecurity is being addressed will take a shift to look at the role policy plays in working towards a solution.

Madeline Janicki

Madeline is a producer for Spectrum News. You can watch her work on Pure Politics, the only statewide nightly show dedicated solely to Kentucky Politics. Madeline is an Indiana native and received her degree in Communications from Indiana University. Her background is as a news producer but her passion for civic engagement and drive to bring voters information on issues that impact their lives brought her to Pure Politics. Here she gets to work on projects like her multi-part digital series on how the national group Teach For America is working in Eastern Kentucky Schools. If you have a story idea, email her at Madeline.Janicki@charter.com.

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