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It’s not uncommon to put food banks in the same category as emergency services, especially around the holidays. They often serve as a place to access food in a time of need. In fact, Feeding America shares, “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment and food insecurity soared. In 2022, 49 million people turned to food banks and community programs for help putting food on the table.”
But what if we shifted the narrative and thought of food banks as partners of Community Wellness Hubs? Although food banks are often wonderful emergency food access points, they are also trusted, steady opportunities to increase access to healthy foods all year long and support broad nutrition security with consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe, affordable foods essential to optimal health and well-being.
In the City of Richmond, California, the recreation and neighborhood services division hosted the first-ever “Snow Day” event. The division coordinated with the community to design the programming for the day and ensured food was available from local food banks for families to take home following the event. More than 100 attendees of all ages benefited from this partnership. Outside of special events, Richmond has ensured that during youth camps, all parents and caregivers have access to produce and nonperishables from the food bank. Word has spread about the value of this partnership between the food bank and the division, and community members now see the division’s center as a hub for both programming and food resources.
While San Diego County Parks and Recreation is experienced in recreation, health and wellness opportunities, staff are admittedly not the experts in food distribution. The agency is, however, well suited to overcome this challenge through a partnership with Heaven’s Windows, a charitable food access organization in San Diego County. Heaven’s Windows hosts its food distribution at the Goodland Acres Food Pantry, located within Goodland Acres Park. This supportive relationship has brought a steady presence to the park and has created an additional food access point for community members.
In Seaside, Oregon, the South County Community Food Bank provides food through monthly pickups to community members, but staff realized community members faced a knowledge barrier around how to use the available healthy food options. Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District Operations Director Darren Gooch, who also serves as president of the food bank, has worked to engage the local food bank volunteers to host nutrition education classes for community members at their recreation center. Gooch says as a team, they’re working to build more variety into the monthly offerings. “The food bank provides a bridge and helps get them through to the next month by providing 10 to 12 days of food each visit,” says Gooch.
The Derby (Kansas) Recreation Commission staffs and runs the Oaklawn Activity Center in South Wichita, Kansas. In early 2023, they received 100 fruit and vegetable boxes from the Kansas Food Bank that they distributed with flyers about upcoming Community Wellness Hub activities, including nutrition education, fitness programs and cooking demonstrations. By distributing both produce boxes and information about upcoming activities, the recreation commission was able to offer food distribution in a safe and trusted location, provide community members with immediate food access, as well as support sustained engagement and relationship building through Community Wellness Hub activities.
Desert Recreation District in Indio, California, works with the FIND Food Bank to provide resources supporting food access and information about the daily pantry locations. The recreation district also hosts a food drive location at its Bagdouma Community Center, the site of the agency’s Coachella Community Wellness Hub. This colocation of services allows community members to access fresh, healthy food, as well as social service supports and connections to programs that enhance their health and well-being.
Food banks don’t need to be in the shadows until a holiday or an emergency. Finding ways to work together to increase access to healthy foods and support social connection and resources is a key way to advance community health and well-being in partnership. For more information on developing partnerships to support a Community Wellness Hub, explore NRPA’s Community Wellness Hubs – A Toolkit for Advancing Community Health and Well-Being Through Parks and Recreation.
Maureen Neumann is Senior Program Manager at NRPA.