Emergency Food Initiative

Author: Danielle Wood

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The Center for Civic Innovation and the Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship are collaborating to support the St. Joseph County Emergency Food Initiative in response to COVID-19. This initiative, convened by the Health Improvement Alliance, is a coalition of local organizations supporting food security in the region and began meeting to negotiate the complexity of that task during COVID – Cultivate Culinary, United Way of St. Joseph County, Food Bank of Northern Indiana, South Bend Community School Corporation, Real Services, enFocus, Purdue Extension, Chamber of Commerce, Community Foundation of St Joseph County, St Joseph County Health Department, and many food pantries.

Danielle Wood from CCI and Mat Sisk from NFCDS developed, with leadership from United Way’s People Gotta Eat Coalition member Sue Zumbrun at Clay United Methodist Church Food Pantry, a pantry inventory tracking system. The system was developed to provide those who fund and supply food pantries with ongoing information regarding the status of different supplies, changes in demand for food pantry services during the long economic duress of COVID, and the effects on that demand of financial support from various federal programs. Pantries, supplying food for hundreds of families every week in our community, have seen a continuous rise as well as intermittent spikes in demand – leaving their shelves empty. These funders and providers of food supplies to pantries use the data to drive how they meet the community needs. Cultivate Culinary’s Jim Conklin use the information to understand where there are bottlenecks for critical supplies and create economies of scale for purchasing, as well as how need is distributed and changing.

Data collection was initiated by a team at the CCI, including Heidi Beidinger and Jenifer Eggleston, with support from Purdue Extension’s Beckie Lies. One challenge has been maintaining engagement for data collection with the pantries. Often, they do not see how the information is used, so it feels like a task without reward. To help to make the visualization and its potential benefits more visible, next steps include merging some of the inventory information with a searchable food pantry map developed by enFocus. The two groups hope to create the additional tool as something helpful to both pantry users and local neighbors who wish to donate.