Just Released: PHA’s Healthy Hunger Relief Index
Helping Food Banks Make Nutrition a Core Priority
Food banks are a major source of food for the 1 in 6 Americans who struggle to access good food because it’s either too expensive, too far away, or both. For those struggling to access good food, the risk of being diagnosed with a diet-related chronic illness increases significantly.
That’s why Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is helping food banks address hunger and health simultaneously by making nutrition a core competency through our Healthy Hunger Relief Index, which is being released publicly today for the first time ever to support more food banks across the nation.
The Healthy Hunger Relief Index aims to help food banks measure depth of understanding and identify action steps toward achieving Food Equity through organizational policies and practices with the goal of making a focus on health and nutrition equally important as a focus on hunger.
For Shelly Parks, Senior Director of Programs at the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank, the Healthy Hunger Relief Index is helping guide and build her organization’s strategic plan. “We’re in a place now after the pandemic where we can be thoughtful and intentional about what we’re doing,” said Shelly. “I think we’re creating the best strategic plan we’ve ever done since it’s more involved, inclusive, and includes more voices thanks to the questions in the Healthy Hunger Relief Index.”
Food banks complete a quick 15 minute internal survey assessing where they stand in supporting health. The questions are separated into 5 domains, each representing an area where a focus on health and nutrition can be effectively applied.
“Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine primarily focuses on our external work to end hunger in our state through partnerships with nearly 600 hunger-relief partners, and sometimes we are moving at such a fast pace, we forget to look internally at our colleagues’ understanding of all the great programming work we’re implementing,” said Courtney Kennedy, Director of Nutrition at Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine. “The Healthy Hunger Relief Index, and its associated questions, allowed us to take a focused look at the work we’re doing internally and where we need to add additional supports for our colleagues and their knowledge base.”
Upon completion of the assessment, partners are able to identify action steps to accelerate progress and build on their existing efforts to make a focus on health and nutrition as equally important as a focus on hunger.
“There’s so much rich knowledge in our report and it’s so organized in the different sectors from staff and board leadership to healthy sourcing,” said Shelly. “It really gives you a guidepost of where you need to go and where to start in making an impact.”
The goal is to gather survey responses from multiple food bank stakeholders, including internal departments (e.g., food sourcing, development, warehouse management) and food bank leadership to obtain as much cross-sector data as possible.
“The Index reflects our commitment to our team members,” said Courtney. “The Food Bank’s experience with the Index allowed us the opportunity to overlay nutrition needs with all of the organization’s core areas and identify opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration as we move our hunger-ending work forward.”
In 2022, 17 food bank partners participated in the Healthy Hunger Relief Index. The aggregated data below shows the combined average results for each question on the five domains. A zero on the scale represents “a system not in place” while a three on the scale represents “a system fully in place.” A total of 143 food bank staff completed the anonymous survey, with anywhere from 1 to 62 staff members at each organization. The full report can be found here.
Partners who completed the survey in 2021 and 2022 recommend taking the survey every year to get baseline data and an idea of what areas to focus on in the following year.
“We found the process extremely beneficial and would like to implement it annually to assess if there are areas where we’re improving and identify areas that need growth and attention,” said Courtney. “This type of work is never-ending; nutrition standards change, and our focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is ever-evolving. Any plans that develop from the data collection can’t gather dust on a shelf. As with any organization or company, the Food Bank does have team member transition, and revisiting these components can be extremely important to maintaining our Food Bank’s culture as we welcome new faces to Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine.”
The survey instrument and the identified progress accelerators were built in collaboration with our Healthy Hunger Relief food bank partners, the UConn Rudd Center, and experts in the charitable food field.
Food banks interested in participating in the Healthy Hunger Relief Index can access the 2022 data, survey questions, and accelerator ideas here.