Food insecurity and the pandemic: How Providence is responding in one local market

Food insecurity and the pandemic: How Providence is responding in one local market

[5 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • The Providence St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund (SJCPF) invests in long-term partnerships that help achieve health, justice, and equity for the poor and vulnerable in our communities.

  • As part of the SJPCF, the new Community Recovery and Resilience Initiative (CRRI) supports community collaboratives to address needs effectively and efficiently during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Going into the holidays, the CRRI is focused on many community issues. This article highlights two groups helping people get food and addressing the pandemic’s impact on food security.

 

The Providence St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund (SJCPF) has always invested in the power of community – for the long-term. Born out of the Providence mission of caring for the poor and vulnerable, the SJCPF aims to achieve health, justice, and equity within the communities they serve. It does this by bringing together dedicated leaders and helping them improve the lives of others.

The CRRI: Helping communities impacted by COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for support among the poorest in our communities. In response, the SJCPF set up the Community Recovery and Resilience Initiative (CRRI).

Jason Lacsamana, Director of Programs and Partnerships at SJCPF, leads the CRRI. He works with people like Paul Bonfanti, Director of Client Services at Charitable Ventures. Together, they assist existing nonprofit collaboratives as they work in communities the pandemic has impacted most.

“The goal of this initiative was to recognize the disparities and inequities that our communities face and to bolster community resilience through the organizations that serve it,” says Bonfanti. “If the organizations are stronger and more resilient, they are able to build that resiliency in communities as well.”

When community collaboratives can better coordinate their services, improve efficiency, and remove duplication and service gaps, they increase their impact. The CRRI selects different collaboratives and makes a three-part investment:

1.     Grant funding to develop capacity for collaboration

2.     A 12-month cohort learning program

3.     Coaching and technical assistance specific to each collaborative’s goals

Twelve collaboratives were selected for the first 2021 CRRI cohort. And according to Bonfanti, they are welcoming the support.

“We’re hearing that there is considerable ‘COVID fatigue’ as communities tire of the unrelenting stress, especially as it relates to food insecurity,” says Bonfanti. “The initiative was designed to be flexible, so [CRRI] coaches are able to support the organizations in their developing needs.”

The CRRI is focused on holistic solutions. Connecting these groups empowers them to work together to affect change.

Investing in collaboratives focused on food security

Going into the holidays, the CRRI is continuing to focus on the most pressing community needs, including food insecurity. The pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges many members of our community face when it comes to regular access to food. Many don’t know where their next meal will come from. Two collaboratives in the 2021 CRRI cohort are on the ground to meet that need.

The High Desert Food Collaborative combines resources for a bigger impact

The High Desert Food Collaborative is a group of food providers that have come together to help address the needs of residents in the High Desert region of California. The collaborative works with local organizations to maximize their resources to benefit those in need and over the course of the pandemic have expanded their offerings to include a housing program and utility assistance.

As part of the CRRI cohort, the collaborative hopes to continue improving their partnerships, so that more resources can get to neighbors and friends that don’t have access. When this collaborative started five years ago, they worked with just seven agencies; they’ve grown that number to 91 and have plans to expand further once their newest food hub location opens in Barstow.

“With food insecurity being part of a vicious cycle, that includes housing insecurity, lack of access to health services, lack of support for any disabilities they may face, and more, it’s great that we can bring all our agencies together to have a greater impact and this initiative helps us to do that,” said Christina Keneti, the Program Director for High Desert Food Collaborative.

Key initiatives include:

  • Offering a central food bank for nonprofits to get food at a lower cost
  • Reducing food waste by partnering with local farmers
  • Supporting food delivery to seniors and veterans

The CRRI is proud to work with the High Desert Food Collaborative as they find new ways to tackle food insecurity.

The Humboldt Food Policy Council fights for equal access to healthy food

The Humboldt Food Policy Council (HFPC) was founded by the California Center for Rural Policy in 2009. The area of California they serve is the more remote North Coast region of the state, including tribal lands, and has limited access roads, which are frequently blocked by natural disasters. The result is frequent disruptions in food accessibility. They envision a community where everyone has equal access to healthy food and are working to accomplish this by bringing together partner agencies, organizations, tribes, and businesses to develop a plan to increase local food access.

The council works with its members to enhance its regional food system. A food system starts when food is grown or produced and ends when food is consumed or thrown away. The goal is to have a food system that is fair, appropriate for all cultures, and sustainable for the environment and economy. It starts with bringing people together.

The HFPC Emergency Food System Committee has been assessing the most immediate needs for long term emergency food system planning. “With the support of the CRRI, two HSU graduate students have been hired to conduct this work,” said May Patino, HFPC Coordinator. “During the Fall 2021 and into the Spring 2022 semester, these graduate students will be assessing regional food system assets and gaps and exploring how municipality emergency response plans incorporate food and plans for feeding communities. Members of the council include anyone involved in the food system, such as grocers, farmers, hospitals or concerned citizens. Working together, they can implement relevant policies throughout the food system. Some projects include:

  • Providing a data-driven profile of Humboldt County’s food system
  • Assessing services and additional needs at various food pantry sites
  • Determining the benefits of giving customers more choices at food pantry sites

Looking into the future, the HFPC is working toward establishing a regional food hub, which would create much needed space for food storage, aggregation, and distribution options. Participation in the CRRI is allowing the organization to start looking at next steps and even to think beyond one hub. They are also exploring the feasibility of a network of regional “Food Anchored” Resilience Hubs that could increase the capacity for day-to-day food distribution and access to food during times of emergency.

The CRRI is committed to supporting the council’s work. By strengthening their collaborative efforts, they can make food more affordable and accessible for all.

CRRI community impact: during the pandemic and beyond

The SJCPF projects are created as long-term partnerships to support the goals and address the needs of our communities. The CRRI is no exception. According to Bonfanti, COVID has helped shine light on the need for this initiative. But the work was never meant to stop at COVID recovery.

“The issues that these organizations are addressing were there before COVID, and they will persist after COVID is finally gone,” says Bonfanti. “But COVID illuminated the disparities and inequities that our communities face, and the uneven impact of disasters such as pandemics on the vulnerable.”

At Providence, we believe in health for a better world. It starts with caring for each other and the communities we serve, especially the poor and vulnerable. The CRRI helps us work with our community partners, who are making real change in areas like food insecurity. We hope to help accelerate them towards achieving community goals, leaving them stronger than they started and ready to tackle new challenges in 2022 and beyond.  

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Fighting food insecurity through community partnerships

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