Innovative Corps Find New Ways to Bridge the Summer Food Gap

For any social service unit, summer is traditionally when donations are lowest. But two Salvation Army corps in the Carolinas are getting creative when it comes to feeding ministries.

In spring 2014, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Salvation Army service director Laura Hagerman noticed the struggle that local families experienced while coming to the food pantry for assistance. Stressed-out young mothers tried to complete paperwork while trying to keep kids quiet and content. Then, Hagerman noticed the mothers would proceed to pick up their food box, roll the cart to their cars, get back in the car to buckle children and unload their groceries.

Hagerman thought, “Isn’t there an easier way?”

There was. Jacksonville started monthly mobile food drives that spring. “Just think of it in terms of a drive-through fast food restaurant,” said Hagerman. Families drive up, get their groceries and go.

Volunteers from the neighboring Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base help the process run smoothly; Jeffrey Peters, the family readiness officer from Camp Lejeune, has been volunteering since the start. He coordinates volunteers from the base to assist with traffic control, food distribution and cleanup.

Hagerman said, “For us at the Jacksonville, North Carolina, Corps, it’s all about analyzing, reflecting and looking at something from another perspective with the hopes of better serving our clients.” She suggests trying to walk through any corps ministry, especially as it relates to social services, and see what the client’s experience feels like. If you have a program that is going well, she added, don’t assume it can’t be done even more efficiently. Hagerman also suggests a client survey occasionally can be a helpful gage to see how a person can best be served.

At the Wake County, North Carolina, Center of Hope the pantry shelves are almost bare. So the center just began its Adopt-A-Shelf program. The idea is to promote more consistent giving throughout the year to its food pantry, which serves 50 Wake County families weekly – 25 on Tuesdays and 25 on Thursdays.

“Right after the holidays and during the summer months, we notice a huge dip in donations coming into our pantry and we struggle to feed families coming to us for help,” said Margaux Austin, volunteer and resource coordinator. “The past few weeks we have had to lower the number of grocery boxes to 30 a week because of the lack of food on our shelves. Unfortunately, summer is also the time we notice an increase in families needing help and assistance getting groceries.”

The Adopt-A-Shelf program allows businesses, civic and church groups and organizations to commit to sponsoring a shelf at the pantry for a particular item. Sponsors can commit anywhere from one month to one year, and a sign is prominently displayed on the shelf for the duration of that group’s sponsorship, as well as acknowledgement on the Wake County website, keepthebellringing.org.

Here’s how it works: First, the organization chooses an item from the needs list. Next, the organization or group sets a duration of sponsorship. Then, that group’s representative completes an application and sends it to info@wakearmy.org. From that point forward, the representative promotes and collects the item from within her or her group and delivers the items regularly to the pantry.

Austin suggests making the sponsorship commitment fun by creating a friendly competition in your church, neighborhood, business or school; using the sponsorship as a team-building exercise; and letting the sponsorship be a teaching tool for children. Sponsors are provided downloadable materials with the Food Drive Toolkit including drop-off signs and an FAQ.

“With the dramatic increase in demand for services,” said Austin, “it is important that we keep the food pantry shelves stocked with items that are consistently needed.”

For more information contact Margaux Austin at margaux.austin@uss.salvationarmy.org or 919-834-6733, ext. 104.