Each day, millions of families across the country struggle to make ends meet. Many are not only hungry, but they also face homelessness, unemployment, health issues, and debt. These realities don’t exist in isolation and families are making tough choices every day on how they will get to tomorrow. According to Hunger in America 2014, 69% of respondents report having to choose between paying for utilities and buying food, and 57% report having to choose between paying for housing and buying food. Put more simply, these issues are complex; no single organization can address all the challenges families face.
That’s why Feeding America launched Collaborating for Clients (C4C), a three-year pilot project supporting five food banks as they launch collective impact initiatives in their communities. Collective impact is an approach that can be used to improve community-wide outcomes by bringing together organizations, community members and stakeholders to solve complex community problems, like hunger, homelessness, and unemployment.
C4C kicked off this fall and in October, I was lucky enough to join the C4C Team to help manage this project for Feeding America and to provide training and technical assistance to the pilots. As I work with our partner food banks across the country in California, Nevada, Ohio, North Carolina, and Vermont, I can tell you that this complicated work is challenging but ultimately exciting and invigorating.
One of the most interesting things about my position is learning how the pilots approach this outcomes-focused work in their own unique ways. To be successful, a collective impact initiative must be a truly collaborative, community-wide venture. Over the last six months, each site has been working hard to bring their community together. One of the first steps has been to form a “leadership table,” the group of people in the community who will drive this work moving forward. While some partnerships formed naturally, the collective constantly asks itself, “Do we have every voice we need to solve the problem?” Each table is unique and specific to that community with members from the healthcare, employment, housing and hunger sectors to local leaders, business and funders.
At the same time, communities are conducting a detailed needs assessment and identifying ways to engage individuals with lived experience. Often, we think we understand our community and already know everything about it; this approach asks everyone to dive deep into the data and form the most complete picture possible, which will help the initiatives identify where and on what issues to focus their work. One of the most exciting parts of this work is that it asks the collective to truly think about bigger, systemic changes that could provide lasting impacts on the community.
Half-way through year one, these five pilots are laying a solid and indispensable foundation that will ultimately form the structure they will need to create change. I am looking forward to continuing to learn with these sites and share their experiences so that we can all work to combat food insecurity in communities across the country.
*Kelly Goodall is the capacity building manager for Collaborating for Clients at Feeding America.