In this unexpected year of hardship, it’s remarkable to see organizations work together to serve households residing in the “Last Mile of Need”: a metaphorical region of families who have fallen between the gaps with unmet food needs. A unique coming together of private enterprise, the public sector, and the faith community have created monumental collaborations to deliver fresh, nutritious foods to these homes, and local churches have the opportunity to deliver through the most intricate leg of the distribution chain.
Many church leaders tell us they want to meet the needs of their communities and are equipped with soldiers of the Lord willing to serve on the frontlines in any way. But for many of these leaders limited resources makes them feel stuck. Meanwhile, communities are losing hope.
And, the hardship is real. Food insecure households with children are at a high of 27.5% (Bauer 2020). Leaders in each sector admit they can’t solve this alone. But the launch of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program in May 2020, has changed this outcome for families in need, for the local church, for food supply companies, and even for the farmers as they work together in what otherwise would have been unlikely collaborations.
This unique program has opened an avenue for food suppliers and farmers to work alongside the local church, in one common goal: to feed Americans who have been hit the hardest. Food supply companies have the logistic capabilities to get large quantities of food through their robust systems but are without the last piece of the distribution arm. Now, the infrastructure of the faith community is used and partnered with them to deliver food where it is needed most. The local church has a special ability to fill the gap, to see the unseen, and to serve their community as the hands and feet of Jesus.
“The biggest thing that struck me in launching this program was the great need in our community for food,” said Pastor Tobe Johnson, Living Hope Fellowship in Helena, Montana. “This has been one of the most effective community-oriented missions we’ve been part of in our history.”
THE CITYSERVE DISTRIBUTION MODEL
The CityServe distribution model is based on a HUB to POD supply chain.
- A CityServe HUB is a church or faith-based nonprofit with the capacity to be the distribution center of food boxes to local churches, also known as PODs (point of distribution), in its geographical region.
- A POD is a local church coordinating with CityServe to receive food boxes from its assigned HUB and meet the needs of its neighborhood with compassionate giving and relationship building.
GOLD STAR FOODS, INC.
Gold Star Foods, Inc., the nation’s leading school nutrition provider and USDA approved contractor of food boxes for round one and two of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, partnered with CityServe and found the HUB to POD distribution model a powerful and effective system they had yet seen in the “Last Mile of Need.” From July 2 through September 18, 2020, Gold Star distributed 232,116 food boxes through the CityServe collaborative network in various states.
“Gold Star Foods was proud to collaborate with CityServe on the expansion of this critical program. The partnership coupled Gold Star’s logistic capabilities and nutrition supply chain with CityServe’s established HUBs – ensuring resources that made a difference got where they were needed most. It’s a unique and powerful model.” said Sean Leer, CEO of Gold Star Foods, Inc.
Another national food supply company, Produce Alliance, has collaborated with CityServe for round three of the program, beginning September 24 through October 31, 2020, to distribute over 1.6 million food boxes in 17 states. Like many others, Produce Alliance took a hard hit because of the pandemic. Farmers to Families allowed them to bring back furloughed employees with an opportunity to help the community.
“CityServe’s model truly takes the food deep into the community where the need is great. It’s our dream to be a part of this program and help people, which is why Produce Alliance is extremely excited to work with CityServe in distributing over a million food boxes,” said Melissa Melshenker Ackerman, president of Produce Alliance.
HOPE BEYOND THE BOX
Pastors have wondered, “Will our church be able to help the lost and hurting during this challenging season?” The Farmers to Families program enables local churches to do what they love to do, help people. The most beautiful part is what is delivered beyond the food box. When needs are met, hearts are open to receive the hope that is found in Jesus. After all, God’s church should be a beacon of hope for the broken and hopeless.