Aug 26The Walmart Foundation and Mercy Housing — Supporting Communities One Meal at a Time
You just got off a 12-hour shift and want to get home to see your children. Payday isn’t for another week, so going to the grocery store has to wait. You get home tired, but you muster enough energy to help your kids with their homework. Then it’s time for dinner but all you have is processed food — filling but not as healthy as you would like. Worse, there isn’t enough. Just like last month, you throw together the best meal you can for your kids, then say ‘go ahead, I’m not hungry tonight.’ In the morning, you’re tired, stressed, and hungry. This is what food insecurity feels like.
Maybe you have gone through this or know someone that has. Situations like these break Mercy Housing’s heart. When people don’t have regular access to healthy food, everything is affected. The stress and damaging health effects of food insecurity touch so many aspects of people’s lives. It feels unfair to boil it down to just one phrase ‘food insecurity.’ For the sake of clarity, we use this term, while we understand that food insecurity also means rent insecurity, health insecurity, and so much more, especially for families with children.
To truly help families to be food secure, we listen to residents to better understand what we can do. Food is part of survival, but Mercy Housing wants communities to thrive, and regular access to fresh, nutritious food is vital to excel in daily life, whether that’s finding a job, continuing education, or aging in grace and place.
The Walmart Foundation Partners with Mercy Housing
The Walmart Foundation shares our passion to serve low-income communities to be more food secure. They provided a $1.2 million dollar grant to Mercy Housing to:
- Reduce food insecurity by 10%
- Get 600 residents signed up for SNAP
- Distribute 500K lbs. of food
- Provide 2,100 residents with nutrition education
These goals offer measurable results that matter to residents so that homes, neighborhoods, and communities will be healthier and more vibrant for generations to come. We set out to reduce food insecurity while furthering our understanding of the issue. We want to make sure that Mercy Housing residents have the nutritious food they need to pursue their dreams and hopes for brighter futures.
Savvy social workers and caring community members know, food donations are just the beginning. The solution to food insecurity requires more ingredients than food alone. Thanks to our Resident Services programs, we have the staff, partnerships, and know-how to take on such an ambitious goal of reducing food insecurity.
Resident Services teams are the bread and butter of how we provide more than four walls and a roof. They keep us centered on residents’ insights, knowledge, and experience. Mercy Housing has always seen Resident Services as an integral part of what we do, not something extra, but rather essential. This Walmart Foundation grant was used at over 149 Mercy Housing properties across all the regions we work in: Southeast, Midwest, Mountain West, and West Coast.
We were overjoyed to distribute 400% more food than we thought possible, weighing in at over 2 million pounds of food. We even saw a 16% drop in food insecurity by pantry users that were most susceptible to food insecurity, and overall food insecurity decreased by 4.5%.
We conducted a pre- and post-program survey, as well as gauging residents’ experience (based on what they told us) through three tiers of need, as seen in the table below. This is what we mean when we say that simply donating a lot of food isn’t always a quick fix. Every community and each person have unique relationships with food and nutrition that require pointed educations, engagement, and support. We offered SNAP enrollment help, food banks, and nutrition classes.
What We Learned
The families, veterans, seniors, and people with special needs that call Mercy Housing home are constantly learning and developing as community members — to keep up, Mercy Housing listened to what residents thought about our efforts to relieve their food insecurity.
1. Physically improving food pantry infrastructure matters.
Outfitting onsite pantries with refrigerators, deep freezers, and shelving, allows fresh foods to be stored, where they previously were not. This fresh-food component creates healthy options, where residents previously might have relied mostly on packaged food.
Solution: invest in pantry infrastructure and staff training so that onsite pantries provide more food, and especially more fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. Pantry users are likely the most “vulnerable” residents, meaning that we have found them to have the least access to food and food security.
2. Intentionality in getting fresh foods is very important.
It’s important to monitor how much donated food is fresh. Mercy Housing appreciates all donations, but often times donated food is nonperishable. These items are useful but not ideal as the only source of calories for a family. Monitor the quality food your community is getting and set aside money and resources to intentionally go out and get fresh produce.
3. Relationships with food banks always have, and will continue, to be essential to everyone’s success.
Food banks are crucial partners. Special care should be taken to plan and prepare logistics for food delivery as it can get complex. Travel, obtaining and organizing food can take up nearly an entire day for everyone involved. For the future, Mercy Housing is looking to include a labor and transport component to aid with these barriers and needs.
4. SNAP enrollment matters, but there are nuances.
Staff-assisted SNAP-enrollment is associated with higher levels of property-level food security. But these numbers plateau at some point based on resident eligibility. Make an initial push to help residents who are not currently on SNAP but who are SNAP-eligible to obtain these benefits. Then, focus on helping those affected by changes in life circumstances, new residents, or residents newly eligible due to policy change — provide resources that help SNAP enrollees in obtaining the most out of these resources.
5. Social context and education materials are a big deal with Nutrition Education.
Residents touted the benefits of cooking courses for practical purposes but also for the socializing aspect. Staff echoed these sentiments, saying that connecting with people was equally important in encouraging residents to attend classes and use the valuable lessons learned. Be sure that courses are heavy on laughing and having fun while materials stay interesting. Relationships build networks of support for diets and broaden horizons in the kitchen and beyond.
As always, sitting down with residents to hear what they think, taught us a wealth of knowledge. The excitement that residents showed following this food programing is what inspires us and gives us hope for communities in need. The solutions for supporting families to have the healthy food they need are out there. It just takes special expertise and know-how to get there. We cannot thank the Walmart Foundation enough for their dedication to ending food insecurity.
Email info@Mercyhousing.org if you have questions about Mercy Housing’s Resident Services or to stay updated with what we are doing about food security.