February 18, 2020

How “Food Scholarships” and Nonprofit Partnerships Support Families’ Physical and Financial Health

February 18, 2020

Six years ago, while planning future programs, Brian Greene, the president and CEO of the Houston Food Bank, looked at the 10-year food insecurity rate in the area and noticed something: it hadn’t lowered, despite years of increased food distribution.

This falls in line with what we know about household food insecurity: its causes are far more complex than access to food and can include housing costs, employment status, earnings, financial health, and household composition, among other factors.

As the charitable food sector (which includes food pantries and free meal programs) has evolved, more food banks are integrating supportive services with food programs to better meet families’ needs and support their efforts to build self-sufficiency.

Helping Houston families achieve stability

The Houston Food Bank’s Food for Change program is reflective of these efforts. Food for Change provides “food scholarships” to clients in partner programs to alleviate the budget stress and trade-offs families typically make when they invest in their future.

Research from Feeding America, the nationwide network of 200 food banks, suggests some families who rely on charitable food choose between paying for groceries and paying for education and other investments (PDF). Clients in Food for Change’s partner programs are developing financial literacy skills, completing apprenticeships and vocational training, pursuing higher education, and completing homebuyer education—investments program administrators believe puts them on a path to stability. Food for Change also supports health partnerships in addition to these economic partnerships.

Food banks have chosen to partner with nonprofits with expertise in each of these areas to provide a suite of services to the families they serve. With limited funding, increasing donor demands, and increasingly difficult issues to tackle, meaningful partnerships help nonprofits reach more people and connect them to programs that meet a broader swath of their needs.

Food for Change would not be possible without partner agencies to implement education, employment, housing, and financial well-being programs. Nicole Lander, the chief impact officer at the Houston Food Bank, says the food bank leans on its partners to inform program metrics and collaborate on data collection efforts to understand program impacts.

Food banks partner to broaden policy impact

The Houston Food Bank isn’t the only charitable food organization working to address the complex, crosscutting causes of food insecurity—dozens of other food banks are also working in this space.

In 2018, Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) in California partnered with housing advocates to support a statewide housing bond, recognizing that the rapid rise in housing costs was at the heart of the community’s hunger and homelessness crisis.

ACCFB collaborated with established housing advocacy organizations and engaged its network of volunteers, joined media events, and shared information with volunteers and other supporters. This collaboration and outreach raised support for the ballot measure, which passed with 54 percent of the vote.

The success of the ballot measure released up to $4 billion dollars for housing projects that meet the needs of California residents with low incomes, including rental housing initiatives, home loan programs for veterans, and projects to build or preserve affordable housing near transportation networks. In California, where over half of renters and 8 in 10 households with low incomes face high housing costs, affordable housing remains a priority.

Through partnerships in programs and policy, food banks are providing families with more than just food. By working together, these organizations are getting closer to achieving their collective vision for a food-secure America.

Cecil Shorts III, second from right, joins representatives from the Houston Food Bank to unload a food donation on June 28, 2016 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

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