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Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2007

Adding agencies

Tackling the problem of hunger in Lawrence is a great goal, but is creating a new agency the best approach?

June 14, 2007

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Bringing better coordination to the delivery of social services in Lawrence has been a long-term goal.

For that reason, it was encouraging to see local agencies that maintain food pantries gather to discuss how they might pool their resources to better fight hunger in Lawrence. It was less encouraging, however, to see that part of the solution one group already has implemented is to form another agency called "Just Food."

The new agency, while undeniably well intentioned, seems to add another layer of bureaucracy while, at least currently, not serving as a comprehensive central distributor for donated food resources. Just Food includes several local social service agencies and churches but not some other key players, such as Ballad Community Center and Penn House.

The idea of having a central food pantry that would accept donations from throughout the community and distribute food to various agencies is a good one. It would allow a more orderly process that leaves no doubt where donors should take contributions and gives them confidence their donations will be directed where they are needed most. But rather than form a new agency, it would seem to make more sense for an existing agency to take over the central food pantry role.

Lawrence is such a caring community that many people are eager to jump in to fill the needs they see. That's great, but adding new agencies sometimes leads to services that are stepping on one another as well as competing with one another for a finite amount of local charitable dollars and donations.

Coordinating the city's food pantries is a good idea. Perhaps Just Food can merge its effort with an existing agency that already has a staff and structure to support it. There's no doubt that fighting hunger in Lawrence is a worthy goal; the only question is how to most efficiently tackle that job.

Comments

Andy_Brown 7 years, 6 months ago

Actually speaking for Ballard Center and Penn House, our food pantries are not tied to any funding streams. As an agency we do not receive outside funding to operate them and staff salaries are not supported by their operation. The food available in our two pantries is collected entirely through food drives and private donations of food items. Volunteers and C-tran workers from the school district stock the pantries. We operate the pantries as part of our mission. It doesn't have anything to do with keeping jobs, positions, funding or power.

Also it is incorrect to call Just Food a new agency, it is actually a collaborative effort of the churches and agencies involved to increase their food supply and purchasing power, it is not a seperate entity, it has no staff, no facilities, and any funds they raise are held by ECKAN until they are spent as agreed by the member pantries. It is a grass-roots volunteer effort, and is successful at what they are trying to do. But they are not taking steps to consolidate food distribution, only in cooperating to increase the food supply available to the four member pantries for distribution from the four locations.

It is incorrect to assume that because we are not involved in Just Food that we are not interested in consolidation of food security programs in Douglas County. We are in fact working towards that goal. I also agree with the origional writer that we have a very caring community that tries to meets the needs of our neighbors, and I commend those who work to address hunger and poverty in our community, including the good people involved in Just Food.

The largest reason that no single agency provides a central location is that the location does not exist. If anyone out there would be interested in donating a centrally located warehouse with loading docks, small office space, and a little bit of off street parking, that is ADA complient; then please contact me as I would be very interested in talking to you.

Andy_Brown 7 years, 6 months ago

Consumer1- I am not sure how to address your concerns. First the city doesn't fund any food pantry operations, so any savings that might be garnered by consolidation would not be felt in the city budget. This obviously doesn't mean approaching them for assistance is a bad idea, it just makes it a harder sell. We do meet with city representatives to discuss funding, community needs, programs, etc. The perspective that I would present to you is that food is easier to come by then a dollar, thus city funds are usually used for what are seen as greater needs or harder to solve problems, like homelessness for example. Additionally Salvation Army has been actively trying to relocate and build a new facility for several years, their mission is already traditionally supported by the city, and they are still working towards that goal. It just not as simple as going to the city and asking for money for a new facility.

Secondly, I agree with you that there is significant potential for abuse and waste in the current system of large numbers of independently operating food pantries serving the same population. I don't understand where you get a sense that there is a food pantry power struggle going on. We don't compete for food donations and have freely traded food items among ourselves during shortages or overstock. Do we use the local media to bring focus to issues that effect our community? Sure we do. Do we need media exposure to keep from closing our doors? No. And the last time I checked everyone had equal access to the free press in this town. In fact most articles in the LJ-World include info and quotes from several pantries.

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