UWSC Column: Food Pantry and Hunger Collaborations

Partnerships and collaborations are tools for group problem solving, decision making and action, and United Way of Story County (UWSC) is a strong proponent of these effective, dynamic groups who get things done in the community.
The mission of UWSC is to be a strategic leader in building countywide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support and evaluate effective human services, especially in the areas of education, income and health, for our diverse community. A key component of the mission – partnerships – explains how we pool the expertise, talents, energy and resources of many to help collaborate on solving issues. One way UWSC develops partnerships and invests in the community is by leading or participating in several community collaborations.  
This column is highlighting these community collaborations throughout the coming months; the Food Pantry and Hunger Collaborations will be featured this month. UWSC was the original convener and facilitates for both collaborations. 
The Food Pantry Collaboration began in 2007, and its purpose is to educate staff and volunteers, coordinate efforts and share best practices. Originally, the efforts were co-sponsored by United Way and Iowa State University Extension in Story County. Over the years, food pantry representatives have come together to compare notes and discuss how each might work together and learn from each other. 
There are now 17 food pantries throughout Story County, and the Food Pantry Collaboration meetings are held quarterly. Past coordination discussions have included ideas for holiday food distribution, food storage and partnering with the Food Bank of Iowa. Related topics include MEANS Database, ISU Extension Family Nutrition Program, Community Supported Agriculture, Girl Scout Cookbooks and SNAP Outreach.
When The Salvation Army opened a service corps and food pantry in 2012, Feed The Children reached out and asked if they would coordinate a distribution site to provide 400 boxes of food and 400 boxes of personal items to individuals and families in need. Because the Food Pantry Collaboration was in existence, successful distribution of all 800 boxes happened in less than 4 hours.
The Hunger Collaboration began in 2011 after a community conversation that included the increasing percentage of students on the free and reduced school lunch program. The group works to address the root causes of hunger and to improve access to healthy food in Story County. Meetings are held monthly, and regular participants include representatives from food pantries as well as human services agenices, faith-based groups, healthcare institutions, local farms. 
Programming ideas that originated through the Hunger Collaboration include the BackPack ProgramTM, Summer Food programs, and the Senior Commodities program. An emergency food sources booklet was created after the Hunger Collaboration was formed and is updated frequently on www.uwstory.org. Printed booklets are used extensively by the food pantries to help direct individuals and families to pantries that may serve them better and more conveniently. 
For more information on either collaboration, contact UWSC’s Community Impact Director Shannon Bardole at (515) 268-5142 or via email at sbardole@uwstory.org
United Way values every partnership with individuals, businesses and organizations. Both the Food Pantry Collaboration and the Hunger Collaboration are great examples of how many come together to advance the common good for all.