Philabundance, the region’s well-known hunger-relief agency, provides food for 350 neighborhood pantries, soup kitchens, and other organizations in a nine-county area serving 90,000 people each week. But, similar to the other major food banks across America that are rethinking the service they provide, the agency has decided to expand its role.
“Traditional food banking alone won’t solve the hunger crisis in our area,” stated Glenn Bergman, the agency’s executive director. “We need a new solution to address long-term food security, and end hunger.”
The idea is for Philabundance to enter into pilot partnerships with agencies that deal with problems like financial literacy, health, housing, job assistance, and education.
It’s called a “food-plus” model, stated Melanie Cataldi, chief impact officer at the agency, who’s heading a new department dedicated to establishing relationships with social-service organizations, as well as implementing and monitoring pilot results.
“People aren’t just hungry,” Cataldi expressed, explaining that low-income people without enough to eat also have other problems that need to be addressed. “We have to tackle them together.”
Ultimately, Philabundance is “looking to put ourselves out of business,” she added, ending the need for food banks.
It’s a tall order, starting with some small steps.
The initial pilot program started in mid-February, with a $50,000 grant from the private, independent HealthSpark Foundation in Colmar, Montgomery County.
Philabundance has joined with the Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities, which runs a food pantry that Philabundance stocks. Nine people who use the pantry were choosen to participate in Almost Home, a financial literacy class run by the Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery and Delaware Counties.
After taking the six-week class, people are eligible to work with a financial coach for six months. Then, a Pottstown Cluster case manager will connect the participants to other resources to help them with utility, housing, and food issues.
If people in the program can save $500, they will be given an additional $250. The figure of $750 is important, stated Chad Guth, director of family services at Habitat in West Norriton, Montgomery County. “If somebody has an emergency savings fund of $750 to $1,000, it prevents them from going into a downward crisis spiral if an emergency expense crops up,” he added.
The plan is to monitor the people in the pilot to see how they are doing at various junctures, up to two years from now. The hope is that participants’ credit updates, and that they no longer need food pantries. Other pilots are expected to follow.