PHA’s Food Assistance Partnerships: Nourishing Communities Most In-Need

“It all started with sheet cake,” Nancy E. Roman, then-President and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB), now President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), reflected. “Because more than a quarter of the individuals served by the CAFB suffered from or had a family member with diabetes, we made the decision to stop sending sheet cake out with our regular deliveries. When it began to pile up in our warehouse I knew the next step had to be an honest conversation with our retail donors about how many sugary baked goods we were absorbing and what our community really needed from us.”

Following that conversation, the CAFB created a recognition program for retailers committed to donating better-for-you options. In 2016, it joined two additional food banks, a food pantry network, and Feeding America as PHA’s inaugural food assistance partners. Upon transitioning to PHA, Roman saw an immediate opportunity to scale the work she had been doing at the CAFB. Working through PHA, she knew she could improve the food supply reaching the more than 40 million individuals experiencing food insecurity, 12 million of whom were children.

PHA clarified the steps that were essential to transforming the food that reached vulnerable communities through the charitable food system, seeking feedback and guidance from key opinion leaders, including Feeding America and other partners. A formal framework was finalized in the fall of 2017 that required all new PHA food assistance partners to assess the nutritional quality of food, enhance the supply of better-for-you foods, and decrease the supply of foods of minimal nutritional value. The framework also required them to implement strategies to drive demand for healthier options among food bank partner agencies, staff, and recipients.

At PHA’s annual Summit in May 2018, 11 food banks were recognized for making a commitment to PHA under this new framework and in April 2019, 8 more food banks joined the program’s second cohort. These food banks have a combined reach of 2.4 million people and have committed over a three-year period to increasing the amount of nutritious food distributed by 42 million pounds and removing 6.5 million pounds of unhealthy food from the food supply.

“One of Foodshare’s strategic priorities over the next three years is to increase access to healthier food,” said Katie Martin, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Foodshare, a new PHA food bank partner. “Joining PHA helps to reinforce this commitment and will hold us accountable for setting strong benchmarks for healthier food. Being a partner of PHA will also create great opportunities for us to network with other food banks that are focused on improving the nutritional quality of charitable food.”

PHA has received generous support to enhance its growing community of practice. The Meera and Ashok Vasudevan (MAV) Foundation provided grants to seed innovative practices that increase access to and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, including the use of PHA’s innovative FNV (“fruits ‘n veggies”) campaign in a food pantry setting.

The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) is helping PHA accelerate the adoption of practices that improve the nutritional quality of food. Through MSDF’s support, PHA will scale WellScan, a tool that helps food banks assess the healthfulness of the foods they distribute, by working hand-in-hand with its creators at the University of Connecticut,. Additionally, PHA will build a vibrant community by onboarding more and different types of partners into its next cohort, offering quarterly learning calls, and hosting a special food assistance convening at the 2019 PHA Summit.

“The tide is really starting to change,” said Roman. “We have such an opportunity to transform the lives of people across the country who are already disproportionately impacted by obesity and chronic disease. It’s no longer a question of why, but when.”

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