Community Food Assistance
Like most states, Colorado has a well-established food bank network, managed through Feeding Colorado, our consortium of five food banks. These food banks receive food from national distributors (e.g., Feeding America), producers, manufacturers, and retailers, as well as through local food drives, and distribute it to local non-profits, charitable organizations, and individuals. These local organizations, which can be food pantries, food delivery services, or soup kitchens, in turn provide free food throughout their community. Such food assistance is distinguished from federal food assistance programs that supplement household income or provide shopping vouchers.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, increasing research shows a strong correlation between hunger and obesity. A household that is food insecure will often choose food that is high in calories instead of food that is high in other nutrients, often due to systemic factors such as food pricing, and availability and accessibility of certain foods. Community food assistance can play a critical role in providing food insecure households with consistent access to nutrient-dense foods.
LiveWell Colorado recommends the establishment of a statewide technical assistance policy or program to enable partnerships between community food assistance programs and local food producers, such as direct market farming, community gardens, and community supported agriculture. See Policy Recommendation #2 on page 12 of the Food Policy Blueprint.
How Colorado organizations are providing healthy food to the community through local produce donations.
Each year, the Food Bank for Larimer County provides approximately 8 million pounds of food to those in need throughout the community. As most food banks are inundated with canned and dry foods that lack vital nutrients, Larimer County is working especially hard to increase donation of fresh and nutritious food to its hunger relief programs. In partnership with the Gardens on Spring Creek, “Plant It Forward” was launched in an effort to increase local produce donations from backyard gardeners and local farms. Posters and fliers dispersed throughout the county at farmers’ markets, stores, and businesses encourage community members to plant an extra row in their backyard garden to be donated to the Food Bank. In 2011, over 20,000 pounds of fresh, local produce was donated just by local gardeners, and an even greater volume is expected by the end of the 2012 growing season. “People have really rallied behind this, putting their heart and souls into growing beautiful produce to feed their neighbors in need,” says Karen McManus, the Food Bank’s Food Resource Manager.
The Outreach United Resource (OUR) Center assists individuals throughout the Longmont area to attain self-sufficiency by unifying community resources. Among other services, the organization provides daily hot meals, groceries through OUR Food Pantry, and nutrition classes to encourage healthy habits and self-sufficiency. In 2011, OUR Center served 124,464 nutritious meals and distributed 861,569 pounds of emergency groceries to 16,870 households. Partnering with LiveWell Longmont, OUR Center puts healthy eating at the center of their mission: “in order to become self-sufficient, we believe that individuals need to have nutritionally balanced diets, so health is our priority” says the Hospitality Center Manager, Rick Rieten. Each year, an on-site community garden provides nearly 4,000 pounds of fresh produce directly to the Food Pantry and Hospitality Center. OUR Center receives tremendous support from the community, including donations from the Longmont Farmers’ Market, Longmont Dairy, Chipotle, Old Chicago, and individual gardeners, among many others. Debra Damiana, Kitchen Coordinator, ensures that every meal she serves meets high nutritional standards so that the clients can attain the well-balanced meals they are not getting elsewhere. She works with what is available to create the healthiest meals possible.
Produce for Pantries is an effort to address hunger in the Denver metro area by connecting food pantries with nearby school gardens, community gardens, and home gardens to provide locally grown, healthy food to those who are food insecure. Gardeners throughout Denver are donating excess fruits, vegetables, and herbs to decrease hunger in their community. For example, several individuals living in the Berkeley neighborhood donate produce from their home gardens to the pantry at Berkeley Baptist Church, which relies on food donations. For more information click here.
Reports: Research, Articles, & Guides
Local Food for Local Need: A Guide to Food Donation for Colorado Gardeners is a new resource by Produce for Pantries, LiveWell Colorado and Hunger Free Colorado to help gardeners start a fresh-food donation program in their community.
Cultivating Health and Food Security Through Food Gardening in Iowa, a report published by the Iowa Food Systems Council, highlights their backyard garden to food pantry project.
Cooking Up Community: Nutrition Education in Emergency Food Programs is a new nutrition education guide produced by Why Hunger.
Food Relief Goes Local, a report published by the Penn Center for Public Health Initiatives, examines how food banks engage in local agriculture through direct production and local purchasing from farms and gardens.
The Healthy Options, Healthy Meals Evaluation, published by The Center for Weight and Health, assesses healthy food access efforts undertaken by food banks and assists food banks in implementing and improving practices that increase access to healthy foods.
A study conducted by the National Institute of Health finds that financial incentives effectively increased the intake of fruits and vegetables for low-income diabetics at a farmers market located at a federally qualified health center.
Growing Connections: A Resource Guide for Farm-to-Food Bank Strategies, published by Northwest Harvest, provides results of 300 agency surveys and shares the key barriers to and most successful strategies for connecting local farms to food banks.
Tools & Technical Assistance
Food Bank Donations, a detailed resource from Colorado Farm to Market, provides useful food safety tips for food banks accepting donations of healthy food and farm products.
The P4P Food Pantry Intake Form, developed by Colorado’s Produce for Pantries, provides a template for assessing the capacity and needs of a food pantry interested in accepting fresh, local produce.
Guidelines for Accepting and Donating Food, developed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is a two page document summarizing statewide guidelines for agencies that accept and serve donated foods as well as health departments that inspect such operations.
Hunger Free Colorado works with community partners to connect families and individuals to needed food resources, as well as to create policy, systems and social changes to ensure all Coloradans have access to affordable, nutritious food.
Guide to Setting Up A Food Donation Program in your Community Garden, a checklist developed by Denver Urban Gardens, provides detailed steps for establishing and implementing food donations from community gardens to pantries.
Feeding America’s Colorado Network locates food banks in Colorado and provides vital information, including contact information, webpage links, and distributing agencies.
Food Safety Guidelines For Your Harvest, a document developed by Produce for Pantries, provides concise instruction on safe handling, storage, and delivery of fresh produce donations from backyard or community gardens to pantries.
The WellnessWorks program, developed by Catholic Charities of West Virginia, provides food pantries with guidance on offering their clients special nutritional food items, information on specific health conditions and general wellness, health fairs, and various health screenings.
Ample Harvest is a national organization working to diminish hunger by educating, encouraging, and enabling gardeners to donate excess harvest to food pantries.