This blog was written by Susan Ohlidal. Susan is an Episcopal priest and chairs the Leadership Team of Kingdom Community Services, an interfaith partnership that shares food and other resources to fill basic needs for all, acting out of justice and compassion.
Ever need to revitalize your community relationships? Maybe you want to have more “face” in your community? Do you want to kick up your efforts so neighbors learn more about hunger in your town? Here’s how our Food Shelf saw an opportunity to do these recently in St. Johnsbury.
For several years, St. Johnsbury-based Kingdom Community Services (KCS) has participated in the Vermont Broadcasters Food Drive. Area food shelves park our trucks at the Dunkin’ Donuts (“location” x 3) during the festive Victorian Christmas event in St. Johnsbury (a busy downtown event). The local radio station broadcasts live from the parking lot (in-the-moment excitement). Donations of food are weighed by an industrial scale manufactured in our town, a big hit with local folks. We fill our trucks as folks drop off items and receive a check later for the funds raised.
As KCS volunteers prepared for the event, I asked questions about the event such as who came, who are our partners in this, and who is served. It seemed like the Food Drive had a lot of possibilities given its timing within a larger town event, festive nature, location, and amount of townspeople. However, the responses to my questions were, well, less than enthusiastic. “We’ve done it for a few years…we just show up…we get a lot of food and money.” We were grateful, but the event had become “usual” for us. We were only focusing inward without seeing the opportunities for outreach and education.
It was time for KCS to re-fresh our role in this Food Drive!
We became more intentional and planned. From St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce, we learned more about the Victorian Christmas event and what was expected. I emailed the radio station and connected with the Food Drive promoter to hear what they expected and needed from us. We wanted to be active, not just recipients.
We brushed up on our information. The promoter said we would be interviewed on the radio (live!) at the Food Drive, a perfect opportunity to talk about KCS’s mission and the food scarcity in our town. I created “talking points” so our volunteers and board members had a clear message and were confident about KCS and the issues of hunger. The VT Foodbank website offered resources to create the talking points: Beyond the Hunger Study: Using Hunger in America 2014 Locally to Measure, Communicate, and Engage and the Hunger in America Vermont Overview and Local Reports.
We made it local. We got statistics about free or reduced meals from our town school. We up-dated our numbers of those we serve. We outlined a few stories of current neighbors who use the Food Shelf and why. And for the weighing of food donations—on that special town-made scale!—we used a new dollar /pound statistic from the VT Foodbank.
We put ourselves out there more. KCS wanted to be more visible, literally, on the day of the event (one rig looks like all the others in the parking lot). So we got a professionally-made banner with the KCS logo and name—a minimal cost item—and hung it on our truck. And we had more volunteers present to cheer and keep up the excitement.
The results were positive. We re/connected with community partners. Our truck displayed the new banner and people saw us. Our volunteers were pumped! Each person interviewed spoke about our mission and about hunger in our town. Over $18,000 and food items weighing 3,048 pounds were collected, total, for participants.
What “usual” you are doing now that could use some refreshing?