Two women stand in on either side of an easel with writing on it.

Seventy attend first MontCo Emergency Food System Conference

Attendees discuss current innovative projects at food pantries in Montgomery County. Photo by John Peteraf.

On Friday, January 30, the North Penn Community Health Foundation and the MontCo Anti-Hunger Network cohosted the first MontCo Emergency Food System Conference at the Giant in Willow Grove.
There were several goals of the conference.

  • Introduce the foundation’s vision that all Montgomery County residents have access to healthy, nutritious food
  • Highlight innovative practices going on in the emergency food system in the county
  • Allow participants the opportunity to share current or future novel ways to serve clients better
  • Introduce the newly formed MontCo Anti-Hunger Network and share results from its survey of Montgomery County food pantries

Approximately 70 people attended, representing food pantries, soup kitchens, policy and advocacy organizations, benefit access groups, county government, transportation, public health and other funders.

Liz Peteraf, administrator for Catholic Social Services in Norristown and nonprofit consultant Judy Stavisky discussed a client survey that was conducted at a number of pantries in Norristown. Though Liz was at first reluctant to do the project, she has since used the data for education and fundraising purposes. The client demographics mirrored national statistics:

  • 35% have a high school degree or GED and another 38% have some training beyond high school or a college degree
  • 33% have regular or temporary employment
  • 61% of households have children, while 14% have a veteran in the home
  • 28% have someone in the home with diabetes and 44% have someone who is over- or underweight

The survey form is available below for pantries that wish to utilize it.

Suzan Neiger Gould, executive director for Manna on Main Street presented their multi-program child food security initiative. Getting children to eat more produce has been a challenge central to the program, and one method Manna used to overcome this barrier was by offering children extra produce when their family visits the pantry.

Advocates Against Hunger founder Kary LaFors described the produce markets organized for Norristown area residents.

Table discussions surfaced other innovative work going on in the pantries from community gardens to cooking demonstrations.

The MontCo Anti-Hunger Network described the origins of the group and presented the findings from its food pantry provider survey conducted late in 2014. Results are summarized in an infographic (see below). There were some bright spots in the data:  only 3 out of 33 respondents reported that they run out of food completely, and every respondent except one has access to a refrigerator or freezer for produce and other items that need cold storage. Yet there is more work to be done. Forty-five percent of respondents are interested in expanded or could expand with additional resources.

Lastly, NPCHF program officer Tamela Luce announced the launch of a new capacity building grant program for food pantries in Montgomery County. The foundation is currently accepting applications for these grants through February 27, 2015. Full details can be found here.

With the enthusiastic response to this meeting, the foundation intends to organize a peer learning circle for food pantries and others in the emergency food system in Montgomery County. The circle would meet two to four times a year and offer additional opportunities for pantries to share and to learn from others on best and promising practices.