Actually, the Temple U. report covered Urban Agricultural next, but I'm going a bit out of order because I think Norristown's agriculture is what could help tie everything together.
Emergency Food means our network of food pantries, soup kitchens and programs like Meals On Wheels, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and the Summer Feeding Program that I mentioned under food in our schools.
The good news is that Norristown has an extensive network of emergency food services and lots of volunteers in community groups giving their time to make sure hungry people are fed.
The vulnerabilities of these programs include a constant struggle for funding, space, and reliable food sources. Few of the food pantries have refrigeration, so they mostly offer canned and dry goods, with no fresh produce, dairy or meats. Many of the soup kitchens have limited hours, so on certain days and evenings, there's no place in town offering food at all.
1. Establish Benefit Centers. This usually means having counselors
on hand at food pantries and soup kitchens to assist families in filing
paperwork for benefit programs like SNAP, WIC, unemployment, etc. One
counselor could actually work at many different places, showing up once a
week when the pantry or kitchen is open. The counselors could also help
with job placement to get the family off of food assistance. However,
it sounds to me like the counselors would have to be employed rather
than volunteers, and nothing in the report explains who they'd work for
and where the money would come from for salaries. It would mean more
reliance on hard-to-come-by grants. Temple also seemed unaware that we
have organizations like the OIC doing job training and placement.
Create and Maintain Gardens at food pantries and soup kitchens, so
these organizations can add fresh, local produce to their offerings.
Participants using the pantries or kitchens could help plant weed and
harvest, and benefit center counselors can instruct how SNAP benefits
can be used to set up a home garden. On the service, this seems to me to
be a lovely Utopian idea, however, the volunteers at our pantries and
kitchens that I know already have a huge workload--vegetable gardens
need daily watering and tending. Temple suggests rainbarrels for
providing water, but gardens need to be out in the open and rain barrels
near a downspout. The rain can't magically move from one to the other.
And that's assuming that there's a decent patch of empty land in a sunny
location near a pantry or kitchen and permissions can be gotten to use
it. We might do better to have other volunteer groups who'll set up and
maintain gardens, then deliver the produce to pantries on distribution
days. I'll talk more about this when I cover urban agriculture.
Maintain Standard Times and Locations. Because most of our emergency
food services rely on volunteers, there are a lot of gaps in when food is available. Few
pantries are open after 5 pm, yet for low income families where both
parents work, evening's the only time available. Not listed in the
recommendation, but mentioned elsewhere in the report is the idea that
pantries that are near each other could coordinate times, so food is
available more days and hours. That seems the best recommendation, given
the limitations of a volunteer labor force.
4. Apply for Grants.
Temple states "There are many different sources of funding that could
support the emergency food efforts in Norristown, such as grants and
other government and private funding." However, they don't list
resources. Most non-profits have no clue how to apply for grants or
what's available, and they're too busy doing the work at hand to look
into it--looking up grants online is often time-consuming and confusing.
Really, this recommendation is useless without more information.
that's where Norristown stands on feeding our hungry. We actually do
more than most communities in the county. Then again, we have more poor
people, too. One thing that I think could help is publicizing better
where our food panties are, so people can make donations. There's a
decent list at http://www.cadcom.org/Montgomery-County-Cupboard-List/58/
though I know there are others, like the Patrician Society Food
Cupboard at Green and Chestnut, which is where I bring extra canned and
dry goods when I have them. And of course, they all need and appreciate
monetary donations and new volunteers.