One of the things that has consistently bothered me about the scope of social services in the United States has been the unwillingness of agencies to work with one another to accomplish common goals. Everyone has their own agendas, motives, staff, resources...and social service agencies have become hoarders. But it's worse than the TV show. Because it's not just our stuff that we're hoarding. We're hoarding volunteers (your time), money (your hard-earned cash) and all in the name of helping people.
One of the things that I told our team when I arrived in Lawrence is that we will not be hoarders. We will give...so much that it doesn't make sense. We will leverage influence & resources to make sure that other people have enough, even if we have to suffer because of it.
It is no surprise that for many communities, including Lawrence, working together with other agencies is often difficult. Everyone has their own logo, brand, resources, ideas, etc. Everyone wants the same thing, but has different ways of getting there. So, we operate as silos, intermixing when the opportunities present itself, and the amount of waste and duplication in the system is astronomical.
Enter Just Food.
Last October, we did the Late Night in the Phog food drive. Lawrence & Douglas County was so incredibly generous (as usual) and over 2,000 pounds of food was donated. For those that don't know, we have a client services division as a part of the Just Food umbrella that, in June, served 7,047 people. (It encompasses a food pantry, mobile food pantry, daily market: where clients can come and get fresh bread and produce, and two federal commodity distribution programs.)
It would have been nice to take that 2,000 pounds of food to feed the hungry people that walk through our doors in droves. But we didn't.
We had a meeting, and the first meeting was attended last October by about 15 Douglas County agencies. I laid out the vision for what Just Food's partner services division (food distribution to partners) would be: no hoarding allowed. We will relentlessly and selflessly work our tails off to raise resources to give to Douglas County food distribution agencies free of charge. We could absolutely use those resources here. But this isn't a competition. And we are all in this together. Together, we win. Together, we lose. Together, we succeed. Together, we fail. Besides, this was the idea from the beginning.
And as a teaser, next week, I will sit down with our founder, Ann Weick, and share with you her reasons for starting Just Food. I can't wait to share that with you.
But for now...since May of this year, we have distributed more than 30,000 pounds of food to now 40 (and growing) partner agencies...FREE OF CHARGE TO THEM. This food includes produce that our friends at the Farmers Market donate, as well as the selfless giving of Mr. Voigt from Voigt Farms, the Master Gardeners, and many other farmers and gardeners. This also includes food that we have purchased at deep discounts, and food that has been donated that we have transported, sorted, stored & packed. That being said, we have distributed in 2 1/2 months nearly $50,000 worth of food to these agencies at no cost to them.
Many would say that we're crazy, and we are. But we are incredibly passionate about helping agencies with huge hearts, but a limited pocketbook make ends meet to continue to feed the hungry that come to them each and every day.
Tomorrow I'll go into more detail about what the role of Just Food as a food bank is. I encourage you to follow along the way. We are making a difference together!